‘The super-union is a super idea’

18th November 2016 at 18:01
NUT and ATL to merge
Teachers needs to speak with one voice – and that might even include heads too, writes one veteran education journalist

As someone who has spent part of their life as a trade union negotiator for the interests of journalists, I suppose I ought to raise an eyebrow about the decision by the special conferences of both the NUT and ATL unions to join forces and create a new super-union.

After all it will mean one less conference to attend in a year and is therefore bound to lead to a cut in education journalists' expenses.

I jest. In fact, the decision by the two to create a new organisation – the National Education Union (NEU) – is an idea whose time has come.

It surely makes sense that two unions whose educational policies over the years have been virtually inseparable should speak with one voice.

The only worry during the latter stage of negotiations appeared to be whether the rather strike-happy pose adopted by delegates at the NUT conference would put off some of the milder members of the ATL (which includes a sizeable number of independent school teachers).  In the end, though, support for the new union at the conferences was virtually unanimous.

The interesting thing, though, is what happens now. It will leave the NASUWT very much the smallest of the two unions left representing – in the main – classroom teachers. Its general secretary Chris Keates is implacably opposed to the idea of mergers, believing sending multiple message of opposition to government education reforms carries more weight than just one. How things change. A decade ago it was the NASUWT under its then general secretary Eamonn O'Kane who was in the forefront of moves to establish a single teachers' union.

I can see this new NEU growing.  There has always been a close relationship between the NUT and the University and College Union and that could be the new area for the NEU to expand in.  Also, the National Association of Head Teachers is now a TUC-affiliated union and there is talk down the line of moves to incorporate headteachers' representatives in the new set up – with perhaps a special interest section to cater for school leaders' needs.

Heady time ahead, so to speak.

What’s the worst that can happen?  

Donald Trump and education

So Theresa May will get an audience with Donald Trump in the New Year despite being 11th in line for a phone call after he won the US election last week. One can but speculate how that meeting will go if the talk turns to education.

Perhaps the best advice one could give to Mr Trump is not to listen too hard to Mrs May if she gets on her hobby horse about creating new grammar schools. She's wrong. That would not help the dispossessed and squeezed white working classes who flock to support the Republican candidate at the polls. The Donald, as he likes to style himself, should probably not listen to his close adviser Nigel Farage on the subject either. Farage is the only other leading political figure in the UK (if he still resides here) to back grammar schools.

Placing the ball on the other foot, I can't imagine that she will endorse his hobby horse proclaimed during the election – that the Department for Education should be scrapped. He is all in favour of "local choice" for parents and believes you do not need a centralised structure to support that. Of course, it’s not as simple as that and you do need someone to oversee the system.

On second thoughts, then, it might be simpler if they steered clear of the subject altogether. 

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