Are you a UK teacher who belongs to the National Education Union (NEU)? If so, what do you think is the purpose of a union? Traditionally, unions work towards better pay and conditions for their members and offer advice and support when things go wrong.
For instance, the NASUWT union has organised a strike at one school in Birmingham over fears for its members’ safety due to students allegedly, ‘carrying knives, threatening staff and brawling in classrooms.’
But what if a union was actively working against the interests of its own members?
Over the weekend, Cath Murray, a former journalist and now with The Centre for Social Justice thinktank, wrote a series of tweets about an event she had attended. Once these tweets attracted some criticism, she decided to delete them. However, they were still in the cache on my phone.
I had to think hard before sharing screenshots of tweets that someone has chosen to delete, but there is clearly a public interest here because in one of them, she states that the event was jointly organised by the NEU and a group called ‘No More Exclusions’:
In a different tweet, Murray reported comments suggesting that Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) – where students who are excluded from mainstream schools are sent – prepare students for prison. These comments were controversial, not least because many NEU members work in PRUs.
From the deleted tweets, it appears that this event involved hearing personal stories from those who have been affected by school exclusion. This seems to be confirmed by the description of a No More Exclusions fringe event at the NEU conference.
I wanted to find out more about No More Exclusions and located this piece by Zahra Bei who appears to be either the founder or one of the founders. Oddly, it doesn’t really focus on exclusions and it doesn’t expand on the group’s demands around exclusions other than to repeat that it wants ‘no more exclusions’. Instead, it seems to have a political focus. The list headed ‘NME as a grassroots movement will…’ includes items such as, ‘Be against neo-liberalism, capitalism, racism, patriarchy, ableism, homophobia, islamophobia & all other forms of oppression,’ and, ‘Be unapologetic, black feminist & leftist.’
I therefore asked the group’s Twitter account what I consider to be a key question but, at time of writing, I have had no response:
This is important because a policy of no exclusions at all would send children back into class with a classmate who has sexually assaulted them and would ask teachers to teach children who have punched and threatened them. I find it hard to imagine anyone genuinely wanting that, but it is implied from the name of this group’s campaign.
Yes, there is a genuine debate to be had about overall exclusion levels and whether certain groups are over-represented. I think one way to bring exclusion rates down is to have stronger whole-school policies that sweat the small stuff. However, anti-exclusion campaigners, including No More Exclusions, tend to characterise these pejoratively as ‘zero tolerance’ policies and consider them part of the same problem.
I have to wonder why the NEU would decide that partnering with this campaign is their core business and how this advances the interests of its members.