Deal to cut teachers' workload isolates NUT

Tuesday 14 January 2003 01:00

By Richard Garner Education Editor

A historic £1bn deal for the biggest shake-up of the teaching profession will be signed tomorrow between the Government and five of the six teachers' unions.

A 22-page document drawn up by the two sides will commit ministers to cutting teachers' workload by limiting the amount of time they have to spend covering for absent colleagues and giving them half a day a week away from the classroom for marking and preparation.

It will also commit the Government to hiring an extra 50,000 classroom assistants for 25 administrative tasks previously done by teachers. The assistants can also receive extra training to allow them to take over lessons from qualified teachers.

The latest two teachers' unions to vote on the proposals – the 150,000-strong Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the 40,000-strong Professional Association of Teachers – both announced they would sign the deal, which commits them to promoting the proposals among their members.

Their decision left Britain's biggest teachers' union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which voted unanimously at its conference last year against the deal, under threat of being removed from future talks with ministers on how to implement the proposals.

Leaders of both headteachers' unions, the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), and the second biggest teachers' union – the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers – have also promised to back the deal.

The agreement comes after nearly 18 months of detailed negotiations over the package.

The NUT fears that the plans to allow classroom assistants to take control of lessons will lead to a dumbing down of teaching standards.

Both headteachers' unions have expressed reservations over whether ministers have earmarked enough cash for the deal.

The NAHT explicitly said that it would back out of the agreement if the Government failed to provide the resources. "The message from headteachers to Government is no money means no reform," David Hart, its general secretary, added.

The union said sufficient progress had been made in negotiations for it to back the deal tomorrow in principle.

Local education authorities, which employ the staff, and unions representing classroom assistants are in favour of the proposals.

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