Together, we will work to have a stronger voice for education

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16 November 2016 by Mary Bousted
At a special conference on the 5 November this year, ATL delegates voted to ballot ATL members in the new year, about the creation of a new union, the National Education Union (NEU). NUT delegates made the same decision, on the same day.
Cardboard cutouts crowd

This is a momentous decision, and one that is the result of a great deal of thought and careful planning. To be personal for a moment: I have been General Secretary of ATL for twelve years. In that time I have seen ATL go from strength to strength. The Association’s membership has grown.  We have served the different sections of our membership increasingly well across all the different sectors in which ATL recruits. ATL has been a leading voice for education professionals, articulating their concerns and campaigning for a better education system which enables children and young people to achieve more, and better, and for more informed, intelligent education policy.

ATL learning has provided training and development to six thousand members in the last three years, CPD which they are not getting in the schools and colleges where they work, but which they desperately need, as the numbers banging down our doors shows us.

I have seen the maturing and growth in confidence of ATL activists and members who join up, join in and get on in their union.

ATL is a modern, 21st century union, holding its own, using its resources wisely, highly respected by key stakeholders from government ministers, to civil servants and to other unions.

But. If I am to ask myself honestly, in those 12 years, has ATL achieved what it needed to achieve for its members, I would have to say no.  And neither, would I have to say, has any other education union. The truth is, working separately, our resources are divided and our voice is weakened. In order to be more effective we need to pool our resources and focus on delivering a broader range of support, advice and development for our members.

Because our members need the support of a strong union now, more than ever. No one can, I think, be in any doubt that the education system is in crisis. Just look at the facts. In England we have one of the OECD’s highest proportion of teachers under 30. 52% of teachers have less than ten year’s experience. A worryingly high number of teachers are leaving the profession very early on in their careers.

I think we know the reason why teaching is no longer a profession for life. Only in Japan and Alberta do teachers have a longer working week than in England where half of teachers work between 40 and 58 hours a week, and a fifth work 60 hours or more.

Excessive workload is combined with poor access to training and development. Long working hours are hindering teachers’ access to CPD. 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 rates. A two year pay freeze imposed in 2011, followed by a 1% pay cap until 2015/16, which has now been extended for a further four years. In this period, accounting for inflation, teachers have, on average, faced a real-terms pay cut of £2,273.

And if the pay situation is bad for teachers, for FE lecturers and for support staff it’s even worse – as is their job satisfaction and security.

That is why ATL’s Executive, in 2011, authorised the Officers of the Association, and its General Secretary, to start to negotiate with other education unions to see if, together, we could achieve more for our members. And that is why we are now in the position to ballot you, to see whether we should, with the NUT, create a new union – the National Education Union.

All current categories of ATL and AMiE membership will be welcome in the National Education Union and will continue to benefit from the excellent information, support and CPD that they currently receive from ATL.

The National Education Union would be the fourth largest in the TUC, with nearly half a million members, speaking with one voice and demanding to be heard. It would be a union with the resources to do so much more for its members – more CPD, more legal support, more advice, more resources and more members, with stronger voices who can take part in the union’s democracy and shape it through their view and their experiences. It would be a force to be reckoned with – one that government ministers could not ignore – as they have ignored so much valuable professional opinion in the past, at such a cost to the profession and to the children and young people it serves.

None of ATL’s values will be compromised in the National Education Union. It will still be up to each member to decide whether, or not, they wish to take part in industrial action. The proposed new rules of the National Education Union require that each member’s ‘conscience clause’ is respected. But where members to decide to take action, this will be more effective than separate unions following their own agenda. And being more effective will mean that there will be less need to take it.

During the next few months you will be getting more information about the National Education Union. Please take the time to read it and to make an informed decision.

And one last thought. A new, National Education Union, would still have me as its General Secretary, a post shared, jointly, with the General Secretary of the NUT, Kevin Courtney. Together, we would work to have a stronger voice for education professionals in all sectors, and across all the nations in which the NEU recruited and organised.