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BRUISER'S 1ST BATTLE; Strike challenge for Clarke.

Byline: DOROTHY LEPKOWSKA Education Correspondent

EDUCATION Secretary Charles Clarke faces his first major test in his new job next month, with strike threats by teachers and lecturers.

Thousands of college staff will stage a one-day stoppage over pay on November 5. And two of the main classroom unions are balloting London-based members on strike action over cost-of-living allowances. The move could close hundreds of schools, bringing chaos to education in the capital. Cabinet bruiser Mr Clarke has strong views on the behaviour of union activists.

Lecturers' leader Paul Mackney said last night: "This is an excellent opportunity for Mr Clarke to have an early success on his hands by resolving a long-standing difficulty among lecturers over pay." Lecturers have rejected a 2.3 per cent offer. They say their pay is up to pounds 4,000 behind that of teachers - pounds 21,000 against pounds 25,000 - after five years in the job.

Meanwhile, teachers working in London want their cost-of-living bonuses brought up to pounds 6,000, in line with those paid to police officers.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers starts balloting members from next Friday over the London weighting and a one-day stoppage could be held on November 26. The results of a National Union of Teachers ballot on the bonuses is expected on Tuesday.

Gerald Imison, deputy leader of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The strikes we are embarking upon are genuine strikes over very real problems that the new Secretary of State needs to address.

"If he sees this as a test of his image, then he will make the problem worse. Recruitment problems in London are largely the result of the cost of living and the Government has yet to wake up to the realities of the situation. Hopefully, this will give them the kick they need."

Mr Clarke's predecessor Estelle Morris quit last week as she faced another damaging report, it was revealed yesterday. Her resignation came the day before her department was accused of squandering millions in taxpayers' money on an adult education programme.

A Government source said: "She was aware that the report wasn't going to look good, and it was just one thing too many. She did not want to be seen clinging to her job like Stephen Byers did, with one fiasco going on around her after another."

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NEW JOB: Clarke
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 26, 2002
Words:396
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