Education bosses deride battlebus

An EDUCATION chief last nightderided as a publicity stunt a teaching union battlebus(crrct) that travelled through the county to protest against plans to alter school term times.

An EDUCATION chief last nightderided as a publicity stunt a teaching union battlebus(crrct) that travelled through the county to protest against plans to alter school term times.

Iris Pummell, Essex County Council's cabinet member for education, said the decision to fix the holiday between the Easter and summer terms for a specific two-week period in April was final.

She said that the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' (NAS/UWT) were merely “playing to the cameras” by turning up at County Hall in Chelmsford in a battlebus decked out with protest posters.

Up to 200,000 children in the county's hundreds of schools will be affected by plans announced last yearto try and even up the differing term lengths throughout the academic year.


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The county council agreed to fix a fortnight's break for April in years to come because it said, otherwise, summer terms could be as long as 16 weeks - after an Easter term of just 10 weeks.

If Easter falls outside the set dates, as it will next year, then pupils and teachers will have just the Good Friday and Easter Monday bank holidays away from their classrooms.

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There were fears that the plans for Essex would be out of kilter with neighbouring education authorities, but after a meeting with union officials yesterday, Mrs Pummell said: “We will be in sync with all the Eastern region from next year.

“Schools in Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, as well as the London boroughs, are all following our lead - it's just that we announced the decision first.

“The unions complained that this would be out of kilter with Manchester, but quite frankly, we're not talking about Manchester.

“We had lengthy public consultation on this, including with unions, and everyone is happy. It will still be a three term academic year, it's going ahead and we will not be alone,” the councillor added.

Delegates from the NAS/UWT stopped off at 13 schools in the county to allow union representatives to talk to teachers and parents about the implications of the local education authority's idea.

The deputation to County Hall was organised after an indicative ballot revealed 68% of NAS/UWT members in Essex favoured strike action to stop Essex from imposing the fixed two-week break.

Eammon O'Kane, general secretary of the NAS/UWT, which has more than 223,000 members nationwide, said: “Changes to the school year must be determined at a national level and implemented to a standard pattern.

“Essex County Council has chosen to go-it-alone with proposals to change the term dates that will cause chaos and confusion.

“We will continue to resist piecemeal approaches by local authorities to change the pattern of the school year and will continue to press the Government to intervene to set a national pattern,” he added.

The new proposals will come into effect from next April.

nThe charity, School Governors' One Stop Shop, is seeking volunteers to become involved in the governance of the county's schools. Information packs are available by calling 020 7354 9776 or by visiting

www.sgoss.org.uk.

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