Union influence on the wane as Social Partnership is scrapped by Gove

2nd July 2010 at 01:00

The "social partnership" between the Government and unions which makes key decisions about teachers' working conditions is to be abolished, increasing the chance of industrial tension.

Education Secretary Michael Gove this week invited teaching unions and associations, employers and governors' representatives to join a new consultative "Education Partnership" that will initially discuss reducing bureaucracy and pupil behaviour.

Mr Gove said he hoped the new arrangements would establish a "mutually beneficial, constructive and structured dialogue", operating "sometimes on a consultative basis, sometimes on a consensual basis".

Although the changes come as no surprise under a government led by the Tories, the set-up is expected to anger many unionists who expect it to significantly weaken their top-level influence.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, has already expressed concern that the new arrangements would create a "talking shop" where the Government could simply appear to be consulting unions.

Under the old arrangements, all members of the Social Partnership had to agree on policies before they were taken forward.

The NUT, which opted out of the partnership, has been invited to the new group and will attend an initial meeting next week. But Christine Blower, its general secretary, is yet to confirm whether the union will join.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said she would not criticise the plans at such an early stage.

"It's difficult to work out what the reality of the Government's proposals will be until the first meeting," she said.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT welcomed the proposals. His association was suspended from the social partnership earlier this year over its refusal to agree on leadership issues.

He said: "We are very pleased to be part of it. We think the name is much better as the Social Partnership didn't appear to be very social. We are looking forward to seeing Michael Gove and hearing what he has to say.

"Previously, we found it very tough to sell policies we didn't agree with. The NAHT's place was always uncomfortable."

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