The united front is long overdue. Many of the divisions between the unions exist for reasons, sometimes disreputable, that have disappeared into the mists of time. The National Association of Schoolmasters broke away from the National Union of Teachers to protect male career teachers from the threat of equal pay for women. The Association of Teachers an Lecturers was originally for nobs.
This month's co-operation has some negative roots: unions believe they need to fight for their lives against the new General Teaching Council. But they are also, rightly, grasping an opportunity. As teacher shortages grow, Ministers are casting about for ways to safeguard the rise in standards achieved since they came to power. The Prime Minister last week made an astonishing commitment. He set the Government a goal of matching spending on independent schools in state schools, at an estimated cost of pound;13 billion. Earlier this year, a report from Liverpool University's Professor Alan Smithers showed that good independent schools have less difficulty recruiting teachers because they treat them better.
Teacher unions have shown in the past how effective they can be if they act together. In 1993 a boycott helped to demolish a byzantine system of national tests and assessment, and ended John Patten's ministerial career. If it holds, unity will surely pay dividends as teachers pursue a dialogue with ministers in the coming months.