A tale of two unions

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I have always belonged to a union and I was once my school’s representative for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). My view is that unions exist to provide individual support if things go wrong and to campaign for better pay and conditions. The English teaching unions always struck me as spectacularly bad on this last point. It is in England, after all, that a conservative government has made the running in attempts to tackle teacher workload. For their part, English unions have tended to focus on all sorts of policy positions that are tangential, at best, to the purpose of a union.

I always wondered whether the relative ineffectiveness of English teaching unions was caused by the fact that there are so many of them, and so I looked on with interest at the merger of two of the largest unions, the ATL and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to form the National Education Union (NEU). This process is not yet complete, with the two bodies still retaining their names and holding separate conferences. What will the future hold?

If the recent NUT conference is anything to go by, it looks like we are in for more of the same. Fiery delegates took to the stage to denounce so-called ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies as ‘child abuse’ and ‘cruel, Victorian, Dickensian’. But this was not just a few firebrands. There was apparently unanimous support for a motion condemning ‘punitive behaviour policies in schools’.

It is reasonable to wonder whether such a scene reminiscent of a totalitarian regime’s puppet parliament is in the best interests of members of the union. As I have argued before, I’m not sure that ‘zero-tolerance’ is an appropriate label, but I am in favour of strong school behaviour policies. They protect staff and students, particularly the most disadvantaged members of the community, and they address small problems before they escalate in to major problems.

And we have evidence of what these major problems might look like… from the NUT.

According to an NUT report detailing compensation claims from its members, one teacher was subjected to a prolonged assault when she asked a girl to stop chewing gum and another teacher was subjected to a four year campaign of violence and poor student behaviour. There is, of course, an eccentric tendency within education that would question the need for the first teacher to ask the girl to stop chewing gum. Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that teachers should not be subjected to this kind of abuse.

In the case of the second teacher, “The local authority failed to put an effective system to manage behaviour in place or carry out a formal risk assessment, according to the NUT.”

So which NUT should we be listening to, the one that passes silly motions at its conference or the one that sticks up for its members?


2 thoughts on “A tale of two unions

  1. The NUT gave me wonderful support when as a supply teacher student threw a book at me and providede with a solicitor and barrister when I sought compensation. But some firm discipline in the school might have prevented the assault.

  2. Pingback: Who speaks for teachers? – Filling the pail

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