With a wave of strikes planned by the major classroom unions next term, the ongoing fight to protect teachers' working conditions and pensions is expected to cause considerable disruption to schools. But, in a highly unusual attack, the leader of a rival union has branded teaching unions the NUT and the NASUWT as "dinosaurs" and claimed that the majority of teachers have no interest in industrial action.
Philip Parkin (pictured right), general secretary of Voice, which is opposed to strikes, said he was "doubtful" that the planned campaign of action would materialise. "I just don't detect an appetite out there among teachers for any action," he said.
In an unprecedented move, the two giants of the teachers' union movement announced in May that they had signed a joint declaration proposing to take action after the summer holidays. While the details are yet to be finalised, TES understands that, alongside at least one one-day strike, sanctions being considered include asking members to refuse to hand in lesson plans or attend more than one directed management meeting a week. Action is also likely to focus on lesson observations, an area of concern to the NASUWT leadership (see pages 26-30).
While the NASUWT has already carried out a ballot of its members, the NUT will be obliged to take some form of action within 28 days of the close of its ballot on 6 September - providing its members back the call for action.
But in his final interview before retiring as general secretary of Voice, Mr Parkin said the fact that the two rival unions felt the need to take joint action "could be a sign of weakness", and reflected their anxiety about taking action separately.
"If they couldn't get a bigger response last year, they are unlikely to get one this year. And I am not aware that the NASUWT's ongoing non-strike action is having much impact," he added.
Mr Parkin is a former NUT rep who joined Voice in 1978 after he was asked to take part in industrial action that he felt was "completely unjustified". Despite the fact that Voice, with 32,000 members, is about a tenth of the size of either the NUT or the NASUWT, Mr Parkin said he was happy to be leaving his union in a "great position".
"Some of the (other unions) are probably more dinosaurs than we are," he said. "We are quite a pragmatic union. We like it when the government has ideas - when they are reasonable ideas. We don't object for the sake of it.
"We know we are never going to be a big union. That's not our aim. Our aim is to provide a home for like-minded teachers."
NUT general secretary Christine Blower hit back at Mr Parkin's claims. "When compared to the combined membership of the NUT and NASUWT - 85 per cent of the teaching profession - Philip Parkin's organisation represents vanishingly few," she said. "The reality is that our current ballot is a response to the very deep anger and frustration of members on a great many issues.
"We are listening to our members and their voice will rightly determine the future of our campaign. Teachers and unions are stronger together, hence the NUT's policy of working towards professional unity."
Timetable for action
24 March 2011: University and College Union members of the teachers' pension scheme hold the first strike over pensions.
30 June 2011: The ATL education union and the NUT join the UCU for the first joint one-day strike.
30 November 2011: The NASUWT and heads' union the NAHT join the other three for the biggest strike to date.
28 March 2012: The NUT and the UCU hold another strike - but only in the London region.
28 May 2012: The NUT and the NASUWT announce an unprecedented joint declaration of intent to hold strike action and action short of a strike in the autumn.
6 September 2012: The NUT's ballot for action will come to an end.