SCHOOL heads have threatened to boycott classroom-based initial teacher training in a bid to sink controversial Government early retirement plans.
The National Association of Head Teachers' action against the proposed changes to the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme is backed by the higher education sector, which stands to lose millions. But vice chancellors and the lecturers unions are worried about the impact on student teachers.
More than 20,000 trainee teachers could be affected by a boycott of school-based ITT. The NAHT announced on Tuesday that it will start the boycott from September 1 unless the Government drops plans to reform the TSS.
An NAHT spokesman said that the move aimed to raise the stakes in the dispute over the Government's plans to cut early retirement costs to the Treasury which amounted to Pounds 480 million last year. It plans to make all institutions covered by the TSS pay a greater share of the costs of early retirements, causing great concern among cash-strapped new universities.
The threatened boycott was condemned by the Government as "hugely irresponsible". Anthea Millet, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, said: "A boycott would harm both the profession and the pupils."
There was concern too from university chiefs. John Bull, vice chancellor of Plymouth University and treasurer of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, said: "I understand the strength of feeling but we should not be taking it out on students."
Trevor Watkins, deputy vice chancellor of South Bank University which places some 400 student teachers in schools each year, said: "A boycott would become a national problem and would require a national solution."
Ann Cotterrell, higher education policy co-ordinator for lecturers' union Natfhe said: "We support the NAHT's objectives but we cannot say that our members will support the specific methods."
Meanwhile, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has launched its own attack on the TSS proposals. The union, which has lecturer members in sixth-form colleges and colleges of futher education, is to fight the proposals in the High Court. ATL spokesmen say that they expect the case to be heard on Monday or Tuesday next week.
Steve Rouse, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "We welcome the testing of the Government's position which is unreasonable."
The DFEE has confirmed that no decision will be made on the proposed TSS legislation until after the end of the consultation period next Friday. The department has refused to comment on the pending court hearing.