Join a Union. Yes, now!
Every teacher and school employee, from TAs to the headteacher, needs to join a union.
Some people think that this can wait, that you can join a union when you need one. But that will be too late. Not unreasonably, all unions decline to help you over an issue that arose before you joined and started paying your subscription. So join now, before you need the support and help of the union and its trained officers.
And if you decide to change unions, make sure that you have a new union on board before you give up the old one, just to be on the safe side. Think of it like car insurance - you wouldn't go driving around for a week or two while deciding which insurance company to be with.
If you wait, it will be too late
You can claim your union subscription as an employment cost for tax, so you get some of the money back, depending on what your top tax rate is. You can also sign an exemption form to opt out of the union’s political fund if you wish. These two points will cut the cost for you.
Student teachers can usually join the unions for free or a minor fee, say £1 per year. You could in fact join several, and compare over the year the information that they give you before selecting one to stay with once you start employment in a school.
It is not compulsory to join a union in any school. Neither is it forbidden, although some Academies and some Independent Schools are rumoured to discourage you from being in a union. Just smile sweetly, say nothing, and make sure that you are in a union.
The Issue - Union membership
Incidentally, your membership of a union (or indeed whether or not you are actually in a union) is personal data that the school is not entitled to know. So if, in an application form, it asks for Membership of professional bodies, don’t put down your union membership. They are actually asking for things like membership of The Geographical Society for a teacher of that subject.
Some unions provide not only support but benefits. Insurance for your property stolen or damaged on school premises, cheaper mortgages, savings products, shopping discounts, professional development, and even free legal advice on unrelated subjects – I have heard of one that helped with a divorce.
Your choice of a union will depend on whether you are a teacher or on SLT, whether you wish to belong to one which is Never-Strike, Sometimes-Strike, or Usually-Strike, in some cases whether you are in an indy school, and which union seems to be the majority favourite in your school.
If you work in a British school abroad, or other international school, the UK unions cannot support you. There is no union for international schools, although in some countries, even where there are no teaching unions, you may join a general trade union.
You may think that you won’t ever need the help of a union, that you cannot imagine a situation where you would be in conflict with the school, because your Head and fellow-workers are all so lovely.
Dream on! I agree that you are probably not going to need union support often, but it’s insurance for when you do. Here are some of the situations that could arise, most of them not your fault at all I hope, but they could nonetheless come and bite you. Hard.
- A parent accuses you of swearing at a child, the Headteacher does not support you
- You work in an independent school, it is going bust and wants to make people redundant
- You work in an academy, free school or maintained school that is making staff redundant because of falling numbers
- An Inspection shows you to be underperforming and they try to sack you
- Or they just inform you that they are beginning capability procedures
- A parent tells the Headteacher that you slapped her child
- The governors decide to lengthen the school day without consultation
- A student accuses you of misconduct
- You are accused of an inappropriate relationship with a pupil
- Your school changes Headteacher and the new one wants to redeploy you to an area where you have no experience
- Your new iPhone, your iPad and your car keys and credit cards are all stolen by a pupil
- You fall out with the Headteacher who refuses to provide a reference
- Or writes one which is falsely negative
- You are setting up stage scenery for the carol service and the ladder gives way
- You are subjected to bullying by your Head of Department that makes you ill
- A child is injured in your classroom
- Or goes into shock from a peanut allergy and you don’t know what to do
- A student is injured or dies on a school trip
- A pupil accuses you of sexual assault
- You are called in to a meeting with the Headteacher about some undisclosed disciplinary matter, and need to be accompanied
- You wish to challenge the school’s new arrangements for deciding your pay point under the new regulations from September 2014
- You wish to challenge the school’s refusal to move you through the threshold
- There is a re-organisation and you have to re-apply for your job
- The workload is just unreasonable, and your requests for help are ignored
In all the above cases, and maybe others, YOU NEED A UNION.
So join one – now!