UK: Solidarity, democracy and unity high on the agendas of education trade unions

published 24 April 2019 updated 29 April 2019

During their annual conferences, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the National Education Union, both affiliated to Education International, have reasserted during their annual conferences their core values and determination to continue advocating education policies beneficial for educators and students.

NASUWT: A proud history of defending and protecting teachers

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) Annual Conference 2019 took place in Belfast from 19-21 April, with the participation of guests from 25 countries and territories.

International solidarity was high on the agenda throughout the Conference. NASUWT Deputy General Secretary and Education International (EI) Executive Board member Patrick Roach chaired a roundtable discussion with international colleagues which included debate and contributions on the question: ‘Has democracy been trumped? International solidarity, trade unions and democracy’. This discussion was a sign of the concern of trade union organisations in education. That theme will also be featured  at the 8th World Congress of EI to be held in July in Bangkok, Thailand.

Among others, EI Executive Board members, Lily Eskelsen Garcia (NEA/USA), Manuela Mendonça (FENPROF/Portugal) and Davanand Sinanan (Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association), and the Director of Education International’s European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), Susan Flocken, participated in the Conference.

NASUWT also launched its International Report 2019, stating that it will continue to offer practical support and solidarity to sister teacher trade unions around the globe.

The union recognised Roberto Baradel of CTERA/Argentina with its 2019 International Solidarity Award, and Jalila al Salman and Mahdi Abu Dheeb of BTU/Bahrain, present at the conference, acknowledged NASUWT long-standing commitment to securing justice for the teachers of Bahrain.

This year’s Annual Conference marked the start of NASUWT centenary celebrations, commemorating 100 years since the teachers’ union was formed. “This Conference will be a particularly special one for the NASUWT as we celebrate 100 years of the NASUWT being the voice of teachers. We have a proud history of defending and protecting teachers in the face of turbulence and challenge and Conference will reaffirm our commitment to continuing to do so,” NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates explained before the event.

She also welcomed Dave Kitchen, a Liverpool teacher to his new role as NASUWT President: “Dave has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing our members and he will be a worthy advocate for the teaching profession.”

Insisting that pay, working conditions and student indiscipline were major issues, she added that “teachers are feeling they are not being valued as professionals in any of those areas of their work,” and that “larger class sizes and a lack of support for pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in mainstream schools were contributing to an increase in pupil indiscipline”.

She also raised concerns about a “blame the teacher culture” in how some schools respond to pupil indiscipline.

“The increase in the retirement age for teachers to 68 is completely unrealistic in a climate where teachers are burning out after only a few years in the job,” she warned.

The motions at the Conference, which were selected by members through a ballot, included teachers’ mental health, pupil indiscipline, education funding, the teacher supply crisis, age discrimination, pay, assessment, pension reforms, and access to training.

Over the course of the Conference, the NASUWT also issued research on student indiscipline and violence, bullying and harassment of teachers, the impact of emails on teachers’ workload, and teachers paying for classroom resources and necessities for students.

Key NASUWT Conference documents can be downloaded here, and Keates’ video interview on the conference with Times Education Supplement can be seen here.

NEU: A new union to shape a better future for education

The National Education Union (NEU) held its very first annual conference in Liverpool from 15-18 April. The NEU is the result of the amalgamation of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

“We created our new union because we wanted to shape a better future for education. A better future for our pupils. A better future for the teachers and support staff who serve them. And we are seeing our efforts beginning to bear fruit. Our new union has already won significant political space and standing in the education debate,” NEU Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney pointed out.

He went on to say, “we see the potential for a life-affirming educational experience in every classroom and that is the future we are aiming for. But our teachers and support staff and their pupils also face real, very deep difficulties. Difficulties that we are confronting together.” He considered it “important that teachers and support staff have a strong union when they face them. The action our members are taking up and down the country is so important. But the union is always there ready to stand behind members, if action is needed.”

To Courtney, another important element for NEU overall strategy is “to know that in almost all cases there is huge parental support for these teacher and support staff members”.

Welcoming the fact that NEUs funding campaign is going from strength to strength, he acknowledged that “school and college funding is an issue that will not go away ,” and “no politician can ignore the fact that three quarters of a million people changed their vote in the last General Election because of school funding”. He therefore called on delegates “to encourage parental campaigning in the run up to the local elections, and to ramp it up even more than that if there is a General Election”.

Courtney was adamant that “this decline in the share of GDP spent on education must be reversed,” and “education must become an investment again. And the work all of us in this new union are doing can keep education spending at the top of the political agenda, for long enough that this Government is going to have to invest or to face the electoral consequences.” “Viva ATL. Viva NUT. Viva NEU. Unity is Strength,” he concluded.

NEU Representative at the International Summit for the Teaching Profession in Helsinki, Finland, in March 2019, NEU Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted, explained that for the past few years, she sat side by side with Schools Minister Nick Gibb and education ministers and leaders from 25 trade unions from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) countries, discussing their respective education systems. “Indeed, we have strongly disagreed many, many times,” she confided. “Nick believes that competition between schools raises school standards. He keeps believing this despite all the evidence to the contrary. What we know is that it is cooperation and collaboration between education professionals, which improves education.”

Strongly deploring that “our system is built on a lack of trust,” she underlined that “under this government, our members are under constant surveillance,” “policed” by the inspection agency Ofsted. “It is our dysfunctional and toxic school accountability system which is poisoning our schools, the education professionals working in schools, and our children,” she told the conference. “And at the centre of this dysfunctional and toxic school accountability system is Ofsted. Ofsted, more than anything else, creates mistrust in our schools. It creates divisions between leaders and teachers. Ofsted drives teachers and school leaders from the profession.” Bousted called for the agency to be abolished.

She recognised that “schools must be held accountable, but in ways which are proportionate, focused and intelligent”, “in ways which build teacher and school leader professionalism and keep them in the profession,” “because no education system can succeed when it burns teachers and leaders up, and then throws them out”.

“So, Conference, we are nothing if not ambitious,” Bousted emphasised. “We want radical reform of our education system. We want good work for all NEU members, for support staff, for teachers, for lecturers and for leaders. We want to be treated as professionals. We want to be trusted. Give us trust, hold us properly accountable, and see how we, and our pupils, will fly.”

EI Executive Board member Mugwena Maluleke from SADTU/South Africa was a guest speaker at the 2019 NEU Annual Conference, which also heard from the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, and the Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson, Layla Moran. Corbyn and Moran both explained that they see problems with the standard attainment tests (SATs), statutory assessments carried out in primary schools in England. Layla Moran said she would eliminate Ofsted and SATs and the baseline, which goes along the lines of the NEU campaign to Shape the Future of Education, and Jeremy Corbyn announced that the Labour Party will remove SATs, baseline and phonics tests from the education system, and told delegates that his party trusts teachers and support staff: “You are the professionals. You know your job. You know your students.”