Fred Jarvis believes his dream of a unified teaching profession is finally coming close to reality.
The former NUT leader was at the union’s conference in Brighton this weekend – the 61st he has attended - as delegates voted to continue establishing an education super union with the ATL. And the debate on Saturday left him in an optimistic mood.
“You can’t rush these things,” he says. “Even when there is maximum goodwill they are two major organisations with long traditions and practices. You can’t just say overnight ‘this is it’.
“But the way they have approached it so thoroughly and seriously, I have been encouraged by that. I hope that within the year we will see the final outcome.”
The 91-year-old has waited a long time for this moment. When he made his final speech as NUT general secretary in 1989 his “main plea” was for the professional unity that he hoped was just round the corner.
More than a quarter of a century later Mr Jarvis argues that the government’s plans to turn all schools into academies make the need for teachers to speak with one voice more important than ever.
“We now have a clear indication that what [ministers] are after is individual [teacher] pay deals from individual schools, not to have any national agreements” he says.
“The only way to overcome that sort of development is by a united body on behalf of the profession. So what were, in my view, strong reasons anyway, have become even greater in the light of what is happening today.”
Mr Jarvis points to Finland as an example of what can be achieved with a single teaching union. “I have known Finnish teachers over many years,” he says.
“They had 11 organisations at one time. Today they have a single one and as we now know in Finland teaching is the most respected and sought after profession in the country.
“Moreover, educationally, their performance as a country is one of the top in the world.”
Mr Jarvis completely rejects the view of Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, who recently argued against the idea of a single teaching union, saying it was better for an education secretary to receive six letters rather than one.
“It’s no answer at all,” he says. “You can’t guarantee the six letters are all going to say the same thing. Over the years, governments have played off one union against the other.”
Mr Jarvis’ desire to do everything possible to make that single letter a reality was such that he was looking forward to making his first speech from the conference floor, to support a merged union, this Easter.
In the event, the debate moved so quickly to passing the motion that his contribution was not necessary: “They wanted to go to a vote and pass the whole thing, overwhelmingly.”
It was an outcome that Mr Jarvis welcomed. But if he had been called to speak he says he would have “congratulated the executives and conferences of both organisations on their vision and courage in taking this momentous first step”.
And asked if can see any obstacles between the NUT and ATL getting together now, Mr Jarvis is bullish: “No, no, none at all.”