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Teachers' union threatens action on class sizes: NUT rejects national strike over sackings but promises to fight for limit on pupil numbers

THE National Union of Teachers yesterday threatened tough action to limit class sizes but rejected left-wing attempts to commit the union to potentially unlawful national strikes against redundancies.

Moves to mount co-ordinated action with other public-sector unions against the Government's pay policy, including a one-day strike in the summer term, were also rejected by the annual conference at Brighton.

With a quarter of schoolchildren in England now in classes of more than 30, the union reaffirmed its willingness to back teachers who refuse to take oversized classes where negotiations with the local authority or the governors produce no cut. It would then hold a local ballot and support strike action to protect teachers from being disciplined. Children have already been sent home in several authorities and the union is also calling for a limit of 20 on practical and scientific classes.

The union is threatening possible strikes over the 1994 pay settlement and the executive suffered an embarrassing defeat when delegates voted narrowly for a left-wing amendment to boycott teacher appraisal schemes.

The union will be committed to campaigning against appraisal agreements that it has just negotiated with virtually all local education authorities in England and Wales, in the run- up to a June ballot on the issue. Teachers fear that the schemes will form the basis for performance-related pay which the Government intends to introduce in all schools.

Richard Rieser, of Hackney, east London, who proposed the amendment, said that appraisal was a 'Trojan horse' to bring in pay based on performance. Today, members of the executive who believe that the union would not be able to secure a two- thirds majority in favour of a boycott in the proposed ballot are expected to try to negate the amendment by voting down their own pay policy motion of which it now forms part.

The rare unanimity on the issue of national curriculum testing at the weekend gave way yesterday to the more normal skirmishing between the dominant Broad Left group on the executive and their opponents in groups such as the Socialist Teachers Alliance. However, the executive has succeeded in focusing planned action on educational issues rather than attacks on government policies.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary, welcomed the vote against national strikes as the delegates pulling back from a decision that would have been portrayed as the union preparing for an assault on the Tory party.

Martin Davies, of Lewisham, London, said: 'This is a serious national attack on our jobs and we need a serious national response from the union. Don't leave us isolated fighting school by school.' But Steve Sinnott, the union's vice-president, said national strikes 'would mean taking action in some of the local authorities who have best defended education and our members' jobs'.

Andrew Marr, page 18

Patten's challenge, page 19