It’s a scandal that 10% of teachers are leaving the profession every year – but it also exposes the failure of the NEU, and the other education unions, to take advantage of the shortage of experienced staff to organise to win real gains for members.
With so many teachers also absent from work with work related stress and burnout, improvements to our working conditions cannot come quickly enough and must be fought for on every front.
With cuts to school budgets continuing, redundancy threats to teachers and support staff are on the rise. Essential services, such as SEND provision are being cut. Teachers are having to resource their classroom out of their own pockets. Staff should call on schools to refuse to cut posts but instead join unions in demanding that politicians deliver on their funding promises.
It’s good that a debate is opening up in the NEU about what needs to change. Yes, unions need to refocus on building strength in the workplace, organising and recruiting reps and winning victories which should be celebrated and shared widely.
In Coventry, we have had a very successful local campaign on pay (which is becoming increasingly fragmented) to stop local schools from having a lower pay point at M6. At the start of the campaign only 5 schools paid the full rate. We mobilised our Reps and members – threatening action. There are now only two schools that are non-compliant and we’re hoping that others will follow. This has put thousands of pounds back into members’ pockets. It’s strengthened resolve and given confidence to fight more battles.
We’re now taking on the fight against Performance Related Pay. If NET and other academy chains don’t use it, then neither should any other school.
However, real gains that cover all our members require national action. Lessons can be learned from the two national indicative ballots held by the NEU over the last year – and how other unions have reached ballot thresholds successfully. Absolutely the wrong conclusion to draw would be that a national ballot can’t be won. The depth of the crisis in schools – for both staff and the students we teach – is too great for unions to just pursue local battles alone.
Yes, the right preparation is required but, as US teachers have shown, a clear and unifying set of demands is also vital. A National Contract for Education can unify members around a single goal that benefits us all.
Workload is the top reason that staff leave education. As part of the National Contract there must be a measurable limit on workload. This coupled with an increase of PPA time to a minimum 20% for all should lead to less teacher burnout and stress.
But we also need to have a say on the actual work we do. All education staff should be fully consulted on marking, planning and all other school policies. Any new policy must be workload impact assessed.
A motion calling for such a National Contract has been highly prioritised for NEU Conference. It calls for trade-union negotiating structures between elected reps and management to agree policies that ensure teachers can fully complete their planning, preparation and assessment and other responsibilities within a clear weekly workload limit – not just directed time but all the other work asked of us too!
We can introduce the Workload Charter that has been adopted in Coventry and Nottingham to other areas but a contract that is for all education workers and covers pay and conditions would be far more effective.
So, let’s build in schools but make clear from the start that we are building for national action to win contractual conditions through a National Contract that is binding on all employers that guarantee better pay and conditions for staff – and better learning conditions for school students.
Nicky Downes, Coventry NEU & NEU National Executive member