Leaders of the country's two headteachers' unions are to call off their threat of industrial action over performance- related pay for staff after reaching a £100m-a-year deal with the Government.
The agreement represents a breakthrough for ministers, who have been facing the prospect of industrial action by five of the six teachers' unions in the coming months.
The two unions, the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers, have been planning joint industrial action for the first time in the history of state education, protesting that the Government had only given schools enough cash to pay half of the 200,000 senior teachers eligible for a £1,000 rise from September. They were due to ballot their members during the summer on boycotting the scheme.
In a statement issued last night, Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, said: "Our best teachers deserve to be rewarded for raising standards in our schools. The whole teaching profession stands to benefit from this mutual agreement with head teacher unions. It is a win-win for heads, teachers, parents and pupils."
But the deal has infuriated teachers' leaders, who see it as an attempt by ministers to buy off heads before the threatened confrontation this autumn with the three main teachers' unions – the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The planned industrial action had been sparked over a range of issues, including workloads.
Ms Morris insisted the Government had not been moved by threats of industrial action by the heads, but added: "It could not be emphasised more clearly by this agreement that the way forward is through partnership, not conflict."
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, said: "I find it interesting that a Government which refuses to talk under threat of industrial action finds it possible to do so when it is the NAHT and SHA making the threat ... It is one rule for the headteachers' associations and an entirely different set of rules for those representing classroom teachers."
The deal is seen as important because it will enable ministers to have headteachers on their side again to push through their school reforms against the rising tide of militancy among the classroom teachers' unions.
During the Easter conferences, 10 motions were passed by the three teachers' unions calling for industrial action. The most serious threat is a planned work-to-rule imposing a strict 35-hour week for teachers in England and Wales during the autumn if negotiations on workload fail.
Because of negotiations conducted throughout the Easter fortnight, heads say more cash will be available to pay the performance-related rises. Under the scheme, schools will be able to put in for 60 per cent of the cost of the pay rises through government grants while finding the rest of the money from their own budgets. However, part of that 40 per cent is also likely to be met through increased government funding for schools.
Teachers' union sources said that, far from discouraging them from pursuing industrial action, the deal could be taken as a sign that putting pressure on the Government paid dividends.
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