Schools 'cannot afford' new contracts

PRIMARY school headteachers in Essex are warning a lack of cash will make it impossible to honour new teacher contracts aimed at cutting their workloads.

By Juliette Maxam

PRIMARY school headteachers in Essex are warning a lack of cash will make it impossible to honour new teacher contracts aimed at cutting their workloads.

The Government is trying to decrease teachers' workloads by bringing in new agreements which formally reduce the amount of work they do.

The first phase, in which 24 administrative tasks such as photocopying and wall displays were passed to support staff, was brought in September last year.

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This September, teachers will be contracted to provide no more than 37 hours cover a year for absent colleagues and next September they are promised 10% non-teaching time for lesson preparation and planning.

It is expected teaching assistants, also known as learning support assistants, will take over from teachers at the chalk face during their promised non-teaching time.

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But yesterday Ruth Brock, executive chair of the Essex Primary Headteachers Association, warned the next two phases are practically impossible for heads to implement.

She said: "All heads have been fully committed to the reduction of the 24 tasks for class teachers which has been implemented across the county."

But she added: "The subsequent phases of the reform are more problematic and this seems to be particularly the case in primary schools where there are no periods of non-contact time already due to tight budgets.

"To afford time for planning and preparation now, not forgetting non-contact time for other professional duties, will be a huge drain on an already non-existent budget. Most heads are finding it impossible to think about whilst funding is not forthcoming."

Mrs Brock said headteachers do not feel it is appropriate to use teaching assistants to cover for teachers. "They are not teachers, do not have the appropriate extensive training required to teach, and are certainly not paid enough."

Training for teaching assistants has been offered, but there is only enough funding for one place per school, said Mrs Brock.

Jerry Glazier, from Essex National Union of Teachers, which does not support teachers' workload agreements because they believe unqualified staff should not be in charge of a class, said: "There's enormous concern about the financial implications of these changes and the lack of tangible evidence that schools are going to have sufficient money to introduce them."

He added: "In primary schools there's very clear resistance to the use of unqualified staff coming from heads and teachers."

He said there are already problems with the use of supply teachers due to budget cuts.

Essex County Council gave schools a 4% average rise in their budgets this year, which most heads said amounted to a standstill situation, following on from a tough settlement the year before which led to teacher redundancies and more than 30 schools going into the red.

Stephen Castle, county council cabinet member for strategic co-ordination, said: "We are very much aware of this and have no doubt that smaller primary schools in particular will struggle to find the resources to meet the arrangements.

"As the local education authority, the county council is supplying support and advice to primary schools to help them meet these nationally-imposed requirements."

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