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Exclusive: Merge with NUT or you will become less effective, ATL delegates warned

Falling membership means it is not a choice between having a new union or staying the same as before, Association of Teachers and Lecturers delegates have been told

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Delegates at the ATL conference in Liverpool tomorrow will be asked whether they want talks to continue with the NUT about forming a new union.

Ahead of the debate, Peter Pendle, deputy general secretary of the ATL, has warned that without change the union would become “less effective” in years to come due to the current political environment and the “competitive world we live in”.

He said the union had been losing more members than it was recruiting. “The changes to teacher training just make it that much more difficult for us to recruit in schools where the teacher training is going where we haven’t got a [representative],” Mr Pendle told a packed fringe meeting this afernoon.

He stressed: “I can understand people in ATL are reluctant to lose what they have got but it really isn’t, I think, a choice between having a new union or staying where you are. It’s really not a choice between where we are now – comfortable ATL – or the new union. It’s new union or something less effective than what you have got at the moment.”

Describing the trade union as an orchestra – with teachers in maintained schools as the strings section – he said: “Our problem is that the string section is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And that makes our influence and ability to act more and more difficult.”

Mr Pendle added: "We constantly struggle to get enough reps. We lose more reps in ATL and NUT each year than we recruit."

Crucial debate

Over the Easter weekend, NUT members voted in favour of talks continuing with the ATL about creating a new education union. But the crucial verdict will come with tomorrow's ATL decision.

If the delegates support talks continuing, then special conferences for both unions could be held in the autumn to consider whether to ballot members over forming a single union.

But there are still concerns among ATL members. At the fringe session, one attendee said she didn't think it was "a good way forward" and she stressed that the NASUWT is still against merger. 

Earlier this month NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates told TES that she would “respect the decision of sister trade unions” but said it was “better” for ministers to receive six letters from unions on issues such as pay, rather than one with six signatures.

Another attendee at the session said she agreed with Ms Keates' views. Fiona Bell said she believed that having representatives from different unions together in front of a minister was a "strong force".

"If there was only one union, me on my own, although I represent a greater number of members, I don't look as strong," she said.

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