Thursday 22 September 2016

Who Will Be in the New Union?

Today, I attended meetings of both Oxfordshire and Wokingham NUT (thanks to Oxfordshire for letting me leave early!). Again, a major topic of discussion was the new union. In particular, members were interested in who would be in the new union, given that NUT currently only admits those with teaching qualifications or training to teach, while ATL has support staff members, and NUT organises in England and Wales, while ATL also has members in Scotland and the north of Ireland.

The answer is simple. Existing members of both unions would transfer to the new union and all membership categories in either existing union (e.g. support staff, teachers, lecturers) will be membership categories in the new union.

This can only be in the best interests of teachers, lecturers, support staff and students as we bring together education professionals with distinct but important roles to speak with one voice.

But this does open up some questions which are worth discussing.

Firstly, will removing the requirement for members to hold a teaching qualification end the NUT's support for every child to be taught by a qualified teacher? Certainly not. ATL currently has the same policy as the NUT, that every child deserves to be taught by a qualified teacher. They recognise the distinct but no less important role played by other educational professionals, including support staff. Indeed, there is a strong argument that the the new union will be better placed to campaign for a qualified teacher in every class as they will represent the very support staff who are exploited by being used as 'teachers on the cheap' and whose own professional role is undermined by this process. It will give us greater strength to argue our case, for children, for teachers, and for support staff.

Secondly, how will these members (new to NUT) ensure that their voices are heard within the new union? Throughout the negotiations, both teams have been committed to the principle of a truly democratic union. Not just the passive democracy of electing the leadership, but the active democracy of involving everyone's voice, experiences and talents in our decision-making. That is why support staff and post-16 staff, alongside independent school teachers who are well-organised and have a voice in ATL, will have their own sections in the new union. These will hold conferences, discuss policy, send delegates to annual conference and elect a member of the Executive.

Thirdly, will this definition of membership put in a relationship of direct competition with other unions, either the Scottish and Irish unions or support staff and lecturer unions? The first thing to say here is that the intention of creating a new union is to take steps towards professional unity, not to open up new divisions. The NUT has positive relations with all of the unions involved, including formal arrangements with UCU in the FE sector and EIS in Scotland, which we would not want to jeopardise. Similarly, ATL has agreements in place with support staff unions, under the terms of the TUC, which the new union would inherit. There will obviously be ongoing discussions with UCU, EIS, INTO, UTU, UCAC, Unison, GMB, Unite and others about future working relationships. Personally, I believe that one of the first steps taken by the new union should be to write to all the teacher and lecturers' unions in England and Wales to invite them to talks on further moves towards professional unity, as the NUT did in 2014.

Our overall aim is unity because unity gives us strength, the strength to stand up for our children and their education.

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