By Pat Murphy, Leeds NUT
On 15 January all the unions representing workers in schools, except the National Union of Teachers (NUT), signed up to an agreement which could radically change the structure of the school workforce. If implemented it will deal with the chronic teacher shortage caused by Government education policies - by employing people other than teachers to teach.
A new type of support worker, to be called a "higher level teaching assistant", will take whole classes in certain circumstances. In addition schools will employ "cover supervisors" to take lessons while qualified teachers are absent. There is little or no information yet on pay levels for these new posts. They will probably be a bit more than currently paid for teaching and support assistants but a good deal less than for teachers.
It is easy to see why leaders of the non-teaching unions have been keen to sign up to this deal. They represent workers who are underpaid and undervalued and this deal offers the chance of a pay and career structure not previously available to them. Just as important to the bureaucrats who approved this deal is the prospect of a huge expansion of a key area of recruitment for them.
Nevertheless there is no evidence that they have consulted their members or have any real feel for what they want. Walk into any staff room, and you will find support staff who are uncomfortable with the idea of replacing teachers on less pay and with no training. The general feeling was summed up by one person on the news last week: "If I wanted to teach, I would have become a teacher".
Much harder to understand is the stance of the other teacher unions. They are selling this new future to their members as a chance to reduce workloads. A recent survey reported that one in every three teachers intends to leave the job within three years. The main reason was the excessive workload. The NASUWT, the ATL, and head teachers' unions claim that the agreement will lead to guaranteed planning and preparation time and a reduction in teaching time of 10%. They also claim that teachers will do less cover for absent colleagues.
In fact the agreement says that preparation and planning time should be "equivalent to 10% of teaching time" and should be allocated within the normal school day. In other words, it can be added on to the school day outside of normal lessons.
It is made clear in the text of the deal that some teachers will get increased teaching time. While cover supervisors will take lessons for short term absences, teachers will have a new duty to cover long term absences which we don't have now. We also remain responsible for the learning outcomes of pupils in our classes even if they are taught partly by others. Lessons to be delivered by cover supervisors and teaching assistants must be planned and prepared by teachers, and in detail.
In other words there is very little guarantee of any genuine extra time or reduction of teaching, but there are clear expectations of increased work.
The basic explanation for the acceptance of this deal by the other unions is their complete lack of confidence in their ability to win concessions any other way. The NASUWT reveal this in their claim, against the NUT, that this is the only way to get the Government to reduce workload. By taking this line they are cheating their members, including support staff, and depriving pupils. For their members they are throwing away the main bargaining tool teachers have at the moment - the fact that there aren't enough of us - by allowing the Government to use unqualified staff and pay them less.
The more serious long term effect will be felt by young people, and in particular the poorest sections of the working class. The schools most tempted to use unqualified staff will be those who find it hardest to recruit and retain teachers. It is already very clear that inner city schools serving deprived and disadvantaged communities suffer most from teacher shortage. Over recent years the use of inexperienced overseas teachers and supply staff has become more common in these schools. In future inner city schools will increasingly turn to teaching assistants and cover supervisors rather than teachers - not only or even fundamentally because they are cheaper, but because they can be recruited.
The educational landscape of the future will involve suburban and leafy lane schools serving middle class pupils taught overwhelmingly by qualified teachers (because their parents will expect no less) and inner city and poorer rural areas where children are taught by teaching assistants and supervisors who are monitored and managed by a small teaching force.
This is the teachers' version of the "workforce modernisation"being suggested for the firefighters. The NUT are absolutely right to refuse to sign up to it. The real problem is that they don't seem to have any strategy for resisting.
In Leeds we have already seen the beginnings of new recruitment to the NUT from the other unions on the basis of our opposition. This could only be helped by a campaign of action against the proposals and for our own national contract. The NUT will either go on the offensive or collapse in the face of isolation. There is no middle way.
The Government's real intentions were revealed last week when they made it clear in their evidence to the School Teachers' Review Body that teachers' pay should be frozen with no offer above inflation this year because the priority for Government spending was "workforce reform". This announcement has put some extra pressure on the other unions. The best way to exploit that is to begin a campaign of industrial action for a decent pay rise.
The NUT put in a claim for 10%. At a time when there is such a shortage and so much anger about workload, we should argue for a serious campaign to win that claim as soon as possible. A Government trying to intimidate the firefighters and contemplating an unpopular and dangerous military adventure in Iraq is uniquely vulnerable. The NUT needs to seize the moment.
Next issue: the perspective of a Teaching Assistant.