However, Reps will not be able to fulfill either of these vital roles unless they are properly trained and supported.
An untrained Rep, or a Rep without the necessary support, will be unable to respond to workplace issues, whether it is consultation and negotiation over key policies like pay (which must now be adopted at school level) or supporting members with individual issues. Worse still, they will quickly lose confidence in themselves and their ability to carry out the role.
There is no reason that workplace Reps cannot be just as effective in supporting members, negotiating agreements and all the other things which used to take place at authority level, as local officers have been in the past. But they need adequate support and training.
And there is a key role here for local officers. Training and supporting Reps, giving them the confidence to effectively represent their colleagues, and stepping in when an issue becomes too big to be dealt with at the school level, cannot and should not be carried out by anyone other than the locally elected leadership of the Union. Full time paid employees of the Union will have a role to play in supporting this but it has to be led by serving teachers.
If Reps without the necessary support and training are unable to negotiate on behalf of, or support, their members effectively, they will be even less able to carry out that second vital function - to organise and mobilise their members.
It is not an overstatement to say that the future of our Union, and to a great extent the future of education, depends of the ability of teachers to organise themselves, alongside parents and the wider community, and resist the attacks we face. Equipping our Reps to build their school groups and encourage members to act collectively, at workplace level, authority level and nationally, must be an absolute priority.
Anyway, the discussion at Regional Executive focused around practical ways of recruiting and supporting Reps. Strategies which were shared included:
- Ensuring a local officer has clear responsibility for Rep recruitment, preferably someone who is not over-burdened with other jobs - it is important to make this a priority for the association!
- Using structures below association level, where the association is large, to use local knowledge and 'keep an ear to the ground'. Examples include Area Reps, clusters, partnerships.
- Giving Reps a dedicated phoneline they can call for advice on supporting members (ie. bypassing the national helpline if the Rep supports direct) - a 'RepLine'.
- Prioritising booking Reps onto the new Foundation Reps Training, which aims to equip Reps for all of the above and give them confidence to take on the role.
- Establishing 'Rep Networks' where Reps can speak to each other directly and share experiences. This could be via regular meeting or an online forum (make sure it is closed and confidential!) and could cover an Association area or smaller as appropriate.
- Making 'Workplace Reps' a regular agenda item for committee meetings where you can discuss Rep density and reports of progress.
- Dividing workplaces up amongst committee members so they have a group of Reps they can contact on a half termly basis.
- Holding a termly social even for Reps to get together and share their experiences.
- Encouraging Reps to report their successes in local newsletters, at Association meetings, etc.
I shared the booklet which Oxfordshire Association produced to support Reps locally. This was sent to every Rep in 2013/14 and 2014/15. A copy of last year's edition is available for download here.
Recruiting and supporting Reps is absolutely vital. If you are interested in trying any of these ideas, making a version of the Rep guide 'localised' for your Association, or have more ideas to share, please get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would be particularly keen to work with any Association who wanted to run a Rep recruitment and support programme, trying out these ideas and more, and monitor it, possibly in partnership with another Association.