Michael Gove may want to think carefully before publicly praising his favourite teaching organisation again.
Edapt, the non-union private company aiming to attract teachers who do not want to go on strike, has revealed that compliments from the education secretary have actually driven people away.
“We lost subscribers the day that Michael Gove spoke about us being a marvellous organisation,” John Roberts, Edapt chief executive and founder, told a seminar in London today. “We actually had people ringing up… I had to field complaints that day.”
That was in December 2012. But since then there has been more unhelpful friendly fire from Mr Gove. Late last year he said that Edapt should be involved in any talks he had with unions.
That controversial and somewhat provocative invitation placed Edapt – which only aims to provide employment and legal support to teachers – in a difficult position, Mr Roberts admitted.
“We were very surprisingly invited to the initial talks in December,” he said. “It was important for us to attend because we were invited and any reasonable organisation would go.
“But it was clear there was a misconception between actually what we were about and what the secretary of state thought we were about.”
The company wanted to provide information to teachers, but had no intention of getting involved in collective bargaining or negotiations: “It is about trying to trying to make sure the unions are happy and we are happy and that ultimately teachers are happy,” he said.
“Because we don’t want the unions striking over the fact that we got invited to a series of talks.”
Mr Roberts said Edapt had attracted “hundreds of new subscribers” in the last few months, with “anything up to 20 new teachers a day”. He added that recruitment had gone particularly well during union strike action last year.
But he refused to reveal Edapt’s total number of subscribers, saying only that it was “around the low thousands”. “We don’t talk about it I’m afraid,” he said, admitting he did not want to give ammunition to his critics. “At the moment it is still relatively small but we are growing rapidly.”
Such secrecy has infuriated union leaders, some of whom have suggested Edapt is backed by politically-motivated donors with an anti-union agenda.
Mr Roberts strenuously rejected such suggestions and was more open about Edapt’s funding. He told TES the company had had around £200,000 investment from nine private individuals, several of whom were teachers.
“None of them that I am aware of have any political affiliation,” he said.
One of them, Richard Taylor – an Australian who said he had investments in 20 other education companies, was present at today’s seminar.
“When I look at a company like Edapt I don’t think I will see a cent from it for maybe 10 years, maybe 15,” Mr Taylor said. “When you are building a new organisation against organisations who have been around for long time you have to know that it takes time.”