So now it’s official: ATL and NUT members have voted to establish a new union, the National Education Union (NEU).
It will come into existence on 1 September 2017 and will be the biggest education union in Europe, representing nearly half a million education professionals in a range of roles and across both the state-funded and independent sectors.
Why have ATL and NUT members made this historic decision? It is because teachers and other education professionals recognise that the status quo, with six teacher and headteacher unions, is not achieving what they want and need.
The truth is, working separately, union resources are divided and the collective voice of education professionals is weakened.
The unions have been directing resources into competing with each other for new members, resources which could be better spent on delivering a broader range of support, advice and development for our members.
Profession in crisis
No one can, I think, be in any doubt that the education profession is in crisis. Just look at the facts.
In the UK we have one of the OECD’s highest proportion of secondary school teachers under age 30 (2016). Fifty-two per cent of England’s secondary classroom teachers have less than 10 years’ experience. A worryingly high number of teachers are leaving the profession very early on in their careers.
The reasons why teaching is no longer a job for life are clear. Only in Japan and Alberta do teachers have a longer working week than in England. Long working hours are, according to the Education Policy Institute, hindering teachers’ access to professional development. We average about four days a year. In Shanghai, it’s 40 days.
Teachers are massively overworked, with far too much time spent on petty, mindnumbing bureaucracy. And into this toxic mix we can add pay – or, rather, the lack of it.
Teachers and school leaders in England and Wales have, since 2011, been suffering austerity pay rises. Between September 2010 and September 2016 teachers and school leaders have had a real-terms pay cut of 11.5 per cent.
What the National Education Union can do
It is clear, then, that the NEU will not be short of work to do.
The NEU will, in most schools, be the largest union, providing support and expert advice to members whether they work in state schools, academies or the independent sector.
It will be a campaigning union, with the resources, the research and the arguments to defend education professionals and to protect the children and young people in their care.
The NEU will provide professional training and development for members, enabling them to make informed choices about their professional practice, and to make progress in their careers.
The NEU will be a broad organisation. Teachers, further education and sixth form college lecturers, school leaders, further education and sixth form college managers and support staff are all eligible for membership.
Together, the collective voices and experiences of these different sectors will promote greater understanding and recognition of the important truth: we’re all in it together.
And to coin a phrase: "Ask not what your union can do for you, but what you can do for your union". It is really important that NEU members understand that they are the union. The NEU has no existence separately from them.
Get involved however you can
We want members to get involved in whichever ways they can – in surveys and questionnaires which will give their union up-to-date information about what is really happening in schools and colleges.
If your school is without a school rep, then consider whether you could take up this role, supported by excellent training and development from the NEU. Come to our annual conference and debate the important educational issues of the day.
There are so many ways to get involved in the NEU, and the more members who become active in the union the better, because in that way the broadest range of voices of the membership will be heard and your experiences will be understood.
Education professionals want to do the best job possible for the children and young people in their care. They are committed to raising standards of education.
But too often they are hampered by political prejudice which results in poor policy being imposed by government on schools and colleges without adequate resources, lead-in times or evaluation.
It is time that educational professionals are heard, their experience acknowledged and their expertise valued. It is certainly the right time to set up the National Education Union.
Dr Mary Bousted is general secretary of the ATL teaching union. She tweets as @MaryBoustedATL
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