UK: Death of an outstanding public education union leader

published 13 May 2019 updated 16 May 2019

Doug McAvoy, former General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers passed away on the morning of 12 May at the age of 80.

“Many trade unionists in the UK will agree that his contribution to education and the working lives of teachers, leading his union through turbulent times,  was profound and lasting,” Education International (EI) General Secretary David Edwards stated.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, an amalgamation of the NUT and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) unions declared that “Doug McAvoy’s contribution to education and the working lives of teachers was immense. He led the NUT for 15 years and increased both the influence and the membership of the union. He had a reputation as a fierce and canny negotiator. He supported the campaign against school cuts in the last years of the Tory Government in the late 1990s, leading to the ‘education, education, education’ election of 1997, and also led the first boycott of standard attainment tests (SATs) - statutory assessments carried out in primary schools in England – in 1993.”

Edwards went on to stress that “Doug gave extraordinary leadership to the National Union of Teachers NUT, to the British & Irish Group of Teacher Unions (BIGTU), to the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and within EI generally and made a significant contribution to their success. He was also a good friend and mentor to many of us. Our thoughts go to his family, friends and the many colleagues who worked with him.”

McAvoy joined the National Executive of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in 1970 and became Deputy General Secretary, where he was in charge of the NUT’s negotiation and action strategies. He served with General Secretary Fred Jarvis from 1974. He became the NUT’s ninth General Secretary, and the first to be elected, when he took the post in 1989. He held that position until 2004.

“Doug had many significant achievements under his belt,” Edwards recalled. “When the NUT suffered a catastrophic loss of membership after teacher unions lost their negotiating rights in 1987 it was Doug, as GS, who turned the Union's membership around. After the damage done by Tory rule, he persuaded the incoming Blair Government to put class-size limits of 30 for primary children. He fell out with the Blair Government over a number of its reforms such as Academies and punitive inspections, but consistently proposed alternatives based on evidence. He was responsible for the NUT being the first teachers union to run its own programme of learning for teachers. He was totally loyal to the NUT and fearless. He took action when needed but was never a grandstander. And he was also totally on the side of the profession and always pressed colleagues to ask what teachers would think before promoting new policies.”

Edwards also underlined that McAvoy “was present at the birth of Education International, when Fred Van Leeuwen and Bob Harris – the two General Secretaries of the merging teacher union internationals IFFTU and WCOTP – organised one of the largest Global Union Federation in the world. He was a true internationalist.”

McAvoy is survived by his second wife, Elaine, and his three children, Jennifer, Neil and Robert.

Messages of condolences are to be addressed to elainemcavoy@aol.com.