Making a difference: your introduction to being an NUT rep
As NUT rep you play a key role in the largest teachers’ union and are central to its continued success. This guide aims to set out some of the activities an NUT rep can get involved in. It may be that you undertake some but not all of the elements discussed in this guide. That’s fine. Your confidence in the role will grow with training and the support of others in the Union.
The role is flexible and you are welcome to adapt it to fit you, for example by job-sharing the role with another member. You can form a team with health and safety and other reps in your school / college and work together with reps in other local or chain workplaces. Try to involve other members in activity and remember that the strength of the Union is based upon members participating and making their voices heard. By acting together at work we can make a difference to the issues that are of importance to teachers.
If at any time you think you would like some advice, assistance or resources to help you in your role then you can visit the Union’s website or contact your local association or division secretary, who will be happy to assist you. If you are a new rep or have not previously attended training you should book yourself a place on the NUT Reps Foundation course as soon as possible. Use the ‘Learning with the NUT’ link on the right to find out more.
Have a look through this introductory guide. It should help you get started with the basics of the role and point you in the right direction for help and support.
Together we can make a difference!
The role of an NUT rep is both exciting and rewarding. Once you have been elected there are several preliminary tasks you need to undertake, which are listed below:
- Let your head teacher/principal/manager know you are the rep. As a rep you will receive from the Union a certificate of accreditation recognising your position.
- Get to know your members. Use the ‘Membership access’ link on the right to register to receive the list electronically. This is a great time to introduce yourself to your members, update the membership list and ask non-union members to join.
- As an NUT rep you are entitled to undertake regular training to support you in your role, starting with the Reps Foundation course. Use the ‘Learning with the NUT’ link on this page to book your place and find out more about other courses that are available. Your association or division will also contact you with details of local training.
Making a difference where you work
The role of an NUT rep is varied and, in large part, dependent upon your specific workplace setting and how many members you can get involved.
Don’t forget, the NUT is there to support you in this role with advice, training and resources. By keeping in touch with your association or division you’ll benefit from sharing ideas and experiences with other NUT reps and officers.
You can also make contact with reps in schools and colleges nearby, or with which your workplace has a connection, such as within a federation or chain.
Your rights as an NUT rep
As an NUT rep you have certain rights assigned to your role under employment law.
You are entitled to:
- Paid time off for union duties and training;
- Approach non-members about joining;
- Somewhere to display NUT materials;
- Reasonable use of facilities, such as email, telephone and a photocopier;
- The use of a room for meetings;
- Access relevant documentation affecting members including job descriptions, staffing structures, pay and conditions of service documents, and local employment policies, which are in use in your workplace.
Your association or division secretary can give you more details about how to implement these rights in your workplace and how you can claim back any expenses you may incur.
Talking with colleagues
Talking to members about issues of importance to them is a crucial part of being a rep. As a rep you should listen to members’ issues and concerns and, where appropriate, help them formulate solutions, or feed back into your association/division. You should also communicate key issues and campaigns. You are an essential link between your members and the wider Union.
There are many ways in which to communicate with members. The form of communication you adopt will depend on the specific context and the aim of your communication.
At a basic level you should try and maintain an NUT noticeboard. You can use material that will be sent by the Union nationally or locally, and material you and colleagues produce. Try to ensure the noticeboard is in a prominent position and is kept up to date.
You should also ensure that you have email addresses for all members to help facilitate mass communication, although face to face communication is always better if practical.
Meetings are important; they get members involved and facilitate discussion.
They will allow you to report on issues and will allow members to raise any issues that they have. Crucially they allow you to gather the views of members so that you are representing them appropriately in discussions with management.
Meetings need not be formal and should ideally be held at least termly. You may need to organise meetings to deal with specific concerns or campaigns as they arise. Members in some workplaces may not be used to meeting as a union group. We need to use the opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of members meeting and discussing issues collectively. With this in mind you should think about how to plan a meeting and the format the meeting will take.
- Choose a convenient and accessible time and place for members.
- Let members know what the meeting is about and why it is relevant to them.
- Encourage members to suggest discussion items for meetings and invite them to introduce the issue in the meeting.
- Advertise the meeting well in advance using text and email, announcements in briefings, newsletters and posters on your noticeboard. Promote attendance by speaking to members individually.
- Welcome questions and contributions and involve all members in the discussion
- Get members involved in activity where possible.
- Record any action points and circulate them to members.
Recruiting to the NUT
The NUT is the largest teachers’ union due to the recruitment work undertaken by our reps. It is important that you know who is and who isn’t an NUT member in your workplace. Use the ‘Your membership list’ link on the right to register to receive the list electronically. Once you have this list you will be able to identify who you should approach about joining the NUT or getting more involved in the Union.
Remember that recruitment is an all year round activity. You should always keep your eye out for any new members of staff, including part-time and supply teachers and student teachers on placement. In schools, students on School Direct and Teach First routes into teaching may not have been recruited to the Union through a higher education institution and are unlikely to be members.
Introduce yourself as the NUT rep to any new colleagues, either to them individually or at a staff meeting, highlight the work the NUT does and ask them to join if they aren’t already members.
Most non-union members are so because they simply have never been asked to join. Below are some recruitment tips:
- Face to face contact is the best way to recruit.
- Listen to what any potential member has to say and try to address their questions and concerns. Try and demonstrate the relevance of the NUT to them.
- Be professional. If a potential member is busy, leave them some literature and arrange a more convenient time to talk to them.
- Understand the different categories of membership on offer. Always have plenty of recruitment forms with you.
- Sooner is better than later. Ask them to join online there and then using the link on the NUT website homepage or call the joining hotline on 020 7380 6369. Alternatively ask the potential member to fill in a membership form whilst you are there.
Getting members involved
As well as recruiting new members, it is important to ask members to become active in some way. There are many roles members can undertake. There are formal roles such as health and safety rep or union learning rep, but there are also informal tasks members could be asked to perform, such as taking responsibility for keeping the noticeboard up to date, organising meetings, taking notes at meetings and so on. Building a team around the role of rep will increase the visibility and influence of the union and help make a difference in your workplace.
Getting people active in the union is easier if they see some relevance to that activity. Below are some tips on getting members more involved:
- Don’t be afraid to ask members to do something for the Union. After all, it is their Union and the worst that can happen is they say ‘no’.
- Ask in person or at a meeting rather than by email or telephone.
- Be realistic about what you ask members to do. Ask members initially to undertake specific tasks that you think they would be good at or enjoy. As they become more involved you could ask them to take on more responsibility.
- Let members know that their particular help is needed. Recognise that different members have different sets of skills and let them complement your own.
- Never refuse an offer of help.
- Be enthusiastic about the importance of the work undertaken and the outcomes that have been achieved.
Helping colleagues at work
As a rep, members may approach you with a concern or a problem and seek your advice. You are not expected to know all the answers or deal with every query yourself.
For reps in England, your first point of contact for help with members’ questions is the NUT AdviceLine - telephone 020 3006 6266 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For other questions and issues your association or division secretary or regional office will be able to advise you.
For reps in Wales with any queries or issues please contact your association or division secretary or the NUT Cymru office – telephone 029 2049 1818 or email email@example.com
Individual issues may range from a relatively minor concern to a more serious issue that has formal implications. Individual issues may include conditions of service questions, capability or disciplinary issues, discrimination, bullying and so on. You can use the ‘Help and advice’ link on the right to find further information on issues such as these. Again, it is not necessary for you to know all policy and procedures relating to these matters. Rather, it is important that you are seen as someone who members feel confident and comfortable talking to about issues and concerns.
Many problems which members bring to you as an individual issue will also have a collective aspect. For example, a workload problem is unlikely to only affect a single teacher in a school. Many members feel surprised but relieved to find that they can draw on the support and camaraderie of colleagues and work together to improve the situation. This is a fundamental principle of being in a trade union.
If the issue or concern affects more than one member, then, if appropriate, you should seek to get members together. This could be a meeting or an informal chat. Some collective issues may be able to be addressed by speaking with the head teacher, principal or manager, others may need to be resolved through formal procedures. However, with some collective issues more negotiation and pressure to bring about positive change may be necessary and you may need a workplace campaign.
Before dealing with such concerns you need to make sure that the issue is genuinely relevant to members and potential members. If we campaign around issues that are important to teachers, we increase our chances of getting them involved, and increase the likelihood of effecting positive change in the workplace. Before embarking on a campaign concerning any issue you should ask if it is:
- Widely felt – does the issue affect enough teachers – either across the whole school/workplace, within a particular department or amongst a specific group?
- Deeply felt – are the teachers affected sufficiently concerned or angry about the issue to want to engage with, and take part in, the campaign?
- Winnable – is there a realistic chance of achieving a concrete victory in relation to the issue via the campaign?
- Visible – will taking on the allow members to actively participate in the campaign?
Reps and their members have achieved significant successes in workplaces across the country by having confidence and working together.
Talking with management
As well as helping members with individual problems, as a rep you should also look to establish a dialogue with management so that you can be involved in addressing collective issues affecting members. You should try to create an environment in the workplace which avoids individual problems arising as much as possible. It is a good idea to have a formal meeting with management once every half-term to discuss issues. At times management may request to talk with you as the NUT rep to consult on or negotiate an issue.
A productive working relationship with management is something to aim for. Your head teacher, principal or manager may well be an NUT member. This should ensure a constructive dialogue. The key thing to remember is that, when you are talking to management, you are speaking as a representative of and on behalf of all NUT members and that you have the strength of the membership behind you.
Below are some tips on meeting with management:
- Have a clear agreed agenda before the meeting;
- Have a clear idea of what you want from any meeting by talking to members beforehand;
- Have an agreed contingency position; but don’t agree to something you are uncertain about;
- Act in a professional and confident manner;
- Always take notes and never be afraid to ask a question or seek clarification.
If possible have someone else with you to assist by taking notes or, if the meeting involves reps from other unions, agree with them in advance who will take notes on behalf of all unions present;
- If an issue is raised that you are not prepared for, tell the manager you will need to speak with members before giving a response;
- Always report back to members on any outcomes.
Get involved and keep in touch
As an NUT rep you are already fulfilling one of the most important roles in the Union. But you may want to extend your activity and involvement beyond your workplace, and encourage your members to do the same. If you feel you want to increase your involvement there are plenty of ways to do this:
- Go along to association/division meetings and tell them what’s going on in your school or college.
- Take up a role in your association/division; there are lots to choose from or you can develop your own.
- Join in local training or contact reps in other schools or colleges about the training on offer.
- Bring local teachers together to talk about pedagogy, curriculum, behaviour management or any other aspect of teaching.
- Get involved in one of the Union’s self-organised groups or get the Union involved in a local community event such as Pride.
- Be elected by your association to attend NUT Annual Conference. You could go as either a delegate or observer.
Your key point of contact is your association or division secretary. If you do not already have their contact details please use the ‘Contact us’ link on the right to find them. They have a wealth of knowledge and expertise you can tap into, and will be pleased that you want to be involved.
It is only by understanding the real issues and concerns of union members that the NUT can make a positive impact on the working lives of teachers.
Thank you again for taking on this role – together we can make a difference!