The UK’s largest teaching union would struggle to win a national ballot and much of its work is “invisible” to its members in schools, a senior member of its national executive has admitted.
In a frank document circulated to NEU teaching union activists, Alex Kenny warns that unless the union changes, it is "at risk of withering on the vine”.
The paper, seen byTes, calls for the NEU – formed from a merger between the NUT and the ATL in 2017 – to address its predicament by recruiting more representatives to work "in hostile environments".
It says they should work in schools and colleges to make "every issue a union issue", including "curriculum and assessment issues".
Mr Kenny, from the left of the union, also writes that the union should be "consciously looking to intervene in schools to encourage some victories at school or [multi-academy trust] level".
Read document in full: Doubts over NEU's future
Exclusive: Teachers to be balloted over pay action
He warns that: “At this stage in the union’s life, and given the hurdles imposed on us, it is difficult to see a situation where we can win a national ballot on the terms set by the current government.”
In the last year, the NEU has conducted two online indicative ballots – the first on pay and the other on primary testing. The votes achieved turnouts of 32 per cent and 39 per cent respectively – yet neither was close to achieving the legal threshold, which requires 40 per cent of the total ballot group voting for the proposed action.
The union, which had 421,707 paying members last year, is now in need of some “hard graft and rethinking,” according to Mr Kenny, who is also a London district secretary and was seen as a potential NUT leadership contender as far back as 2003.
Mr Kenny warns that last week’s general election result has “serious implications” for the NEU, and that the union may be “unfinished business” for senior members of the Conservative party, which could impose further restrictions on trade unions – including an attempt to curb strikes in essential public services.
“Our big concern must be that, despite some high-profile campaigning, clearer communications and some excellent campaign initiatives, much of it is invisible to the mass of members in schools and colleges.
Looking ahead, he calls for a transformation in the way the union recruits, trains and retains reps as well as the way it engages with members in schools, which “has to be made part of our DNA”.
In the document, Mr Kenny admits: “In short, we have not yet made a breakthrough, or won a victory, that can make a difference to the daily experiences of teachers and support staff.
“Members in schools are struggling in the face of crippling workload, stifling of creativity and punitive policies on pay, sickness etc.”
He says some of the best work in recent years has been done on local campaigns around such issues as sickness policies, maternity leave, observations, part-time working, and says “this is something we can perhaps turn back to”.
But he adds: “This will require some hard graft and some rethinking of how we organise in local districts but, unless we are able to do this, the union is at risk of withering on the vine over the next few years.”
An NEU spokesperson said: “This is not an official National Education Union document. It was produced by one individual member of the NEU’s national executive.
"The national executive will be meeting in the New Year to discuss the NEU's campaigns for education and the profession."