Teachers threaten strike action

TEACHERS are threatening to go on strike over Essex County Council's plans to alter the school year, saying it would eat into their six-week summer holiday.

By Juliette Maxam

TEACHERS are threatening to go on strike over Essex County Council's plans to alter the school year, saying it would eat into their six-week summer holiday.

A vote in a "consultative ballot" showed 68% of National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers members in Essex favoured strike action to stop the county council from imposing a two-week break in April to even up term lengths.

Essex County Council education cabinet member Iris Pummell said she was "disappointed" by the union's threat, which could affect up to 200,000 children at hundreds of schools, as the plans, announced last year, had been subjected to extensive public consultation.

The county council decided on a fortnight's fixed break in April because it said that, otherwise, the 2005 summer term would be 16 weeks long, after a 10-week Easter term.

The council asked for views on switching to a five or six term year but, faced with no "overall consensus on any one way forward", decided to go for three terms with two weeks off in April for the foreseeable future.

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If Easter falls outside that fortnight - as it will next year - then pupils and teachers will just get the Good Friday and Easter Monday bank holidays off.

The NASUWT, which represents one third of the county's teachers, sent out 3,160 ballot papers to its Essex members and received 827 responses, of which 553 were in favour of strikes, and 704 in favour of industrial action short of walk-outs.

NASUWT general secretary Eamonn O'Kane said Essex's plan would make it more difficult for schools in the county to recruit and retain teachers.

"NASUWT is keen to retain and protect the six-week summer holiday as it is one of the most attractive features of the profession. The long break encourages people to become, and remain, teachers."

It would also put the local education authority out of kilter with eight neighbouring LEAs, said Mr O'Kane.

"Such different holiday patterns will create havoc for working parents with children in schools in both Essex and its neighbouring LEAs. They will have to find extra childcare for a total of three weeks at Easter and February half term. Parents have already started to protest."

Mrs Pummell said: "I am very disappointed with the stance taken by the NASUWT. We carried out three rounds of consultations with teachers, teacher unions, governors and parents, and the NASUWT did not object until after the decision on the school year for 2004/2005 was made last May.

"Their figures confirm that 533 teachers, fewer than one in five of their members in Essex, voted in favour of strike action. There are more than 11,000 teachers in the county.

"It is the change that most Essex schools wanted and this was a vital influence on our decision."

Mrs Pummell added: "Our new arrangements are not a six-term year, but a three-term year with a fixed spring break to make the spring and summer terms as near of equal length as possible.

"The change in the length of the summer holiday is a reduction of just four days to five full weeks."

Mr O'Kane said his union wanted further meetings with Essex over the proposal to try to get it dropped.

"Unless there is movement it is likely that a ballot for strike action will be conducted," he stressed.

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