Two teacher unions wed to become the National Education Union

18 Aug

On 1 September 2017, the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers joined to become one in holy matrimony, forming the National Education Union (NEU).  The purpose of such a move was to strengthen the hands of rank-and-file teachers following the systematic emasculation of both, the unions and local education authorities (LAs).  The teacher unions and LAs are strange bedfellows in that both have seen their powers weakened considerably with the creation of academies and free schools.   The NUT-ATL marriage is an attempt to change the state of play.

The NEU has brought together the majority of the 457,300 full-time equivalent teachers in England.   Some members have campaigned over recent years to unite all the teacher unions.  The creation of the NEU is the culmination of those attempts.

Previously, there were four teacher unions.  Apart from what was the NUT and ATL, there are the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) and Voice – the only teacher union which refuses to strike.   In addition, there are two Headteacher unions – the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

Over the last 20 years or so, the unions have seen a whittling down of their power base, mainly through though not exclusively by legislation.   Local Management of Schools (LMS) and the creation of academies and free Sschools were subtle mechanisms by which this has been ‘achieved’.   For instance, where there was a gripe in the past, the unions withdrew their labour in all schools by protesting against an LA’s action.  Now, strike action has to be taken against individual schools, where they happen to be free schools or academies.  This is tiring, as the majority of teachers voting in each institution has to vote in favour of withdrawing their labour.

The NEU – with the combined resources of its two former parent bodies – will see its resources – financial and otherwise (such as influence) – swell making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.  Members of the two former unions – who have had different philosophies and approaches – will influence each other, all of us hope – for the better.   For instance, the NUT had a penchant of moving more quickly to industrial action than ATL.   Employers will look forward to former ATL members putting brakes on ex-NUT ones in this matter.

The NEU has its agenda cut out.   Increasing the funding of schools/academies is at the top of the list of issues that it will be addressing.  Closely allied to funding is teachers’ pay.  The NUT, for instance, has submitted its request to the School Teachers’ Review Body for a 3% rise.  The STRB has, however proposed a 2% rise for teachers on the main scale to the Secretary of State.

Two other issues have raised the hackles of members, i.e.

  • teacher workload and
  • tests and examinations, i.e. assessments

To counter the attempt to increase the unions’ power and influence, the government has promulgated the Trade Union Act 2016 in certain public services, education being one. A key provision is that at least 50% of members will be required to vote and at least 40% of all members must vote for industrial action before it can be taken.

Meanwhile, Kevin Courtney, ex-General Secretary of the NUT, and Mary Boursted, ex-General Secretary of ATL, will be the joint General Secretaries of the NEU.  Governors’ Agenda wishes both of them and the new super-union every success.

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