First things first, you’re both well-known leaders of respected unions so why are you coming together now? Why is 2017-2020 the time for this to happen?
KC: So in the NUT we’ve thought that professional unity is the right thing for a long time, that unity is strength and that we need unity to increase the voice for education. I think both the NUT and ATL are effective, well organised unions that have achieved a great deal but there is so much more we need to do. I think we need to combine to really change things for teachers and other staff and for the young people we teach.
MB: It’s never been a tougher time to be an education professional. Teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession. Teachers, lecturers, support staff and school leaders are overworked, underpaid and need a stronger collective voice to be heard in government. The National Education Union will be that voice. Rational, evidence-based, with strong member input which will determine its policies and its future. It is a really exciting idea whose time has come!
How will one amalgamated union give us more power and help us protect schools, teachers and students better?
KC: We’ll be the fourth biggest union in the country – we’ll have nearly half a million members. A majority of teachers will be in the National Education Union (NEU) and that by itself has an effect. We will speak with authority for the majority of teachers. We will be able to pool resources to offer increased levels of support to members. At school level, if the majority of teachers say something to the head, then with the union’s backing you can expect to get changes in that school. And we need changes around workload in too many schools.
MB: The NEU will have more resources than any other education union, to conduct more research, upon which better education policy can be developed. The NEU will not only ask questions, it will provide answers – ones that will often be better than the government’s ideologically driven, but educationally poor policies. And not just in schools – the NEU will have members across other education workplaces including colleges, and will advise and support everyone in the workplace from leaders to support staff.
If you’re currently a member of the NUT or ATL, how will becoming a member of the NEU benefit you personally?
MB: The NEU will be the fourth largest union in the TUC with more than 450,000 members. It will be a force to be reckoned with – something that government ministers are well aware of. The NEU will be able to do more for its members: to support them if they face difficulties at work; to provide relevant, high-quality professional development, provided locally, close to their work; and better education research and policy statements which advance the cause of education for education staff, and for children, young people and adults.
KC: The new union will have fantastic levels of support for members, will offer increased CPD opportunities and will give all its members a real voice. The benefits of uniting at school level can’t be overstated. There is so much we have to do to change things for teachers.
Even on just a personal or collegiate level, it would be nice for teachers within the same school to be part of the same union as well….
KC: You’re right, I hope there will be a camaraderie which comes from being in the same union, getting the same messages from your head office, knowing that there’s the support there for all of you.
MB: Most definitely, a stronger voice and a collegiate approach across all the roles within the workplace. We know one union for all education professionals would be the best solution to the problems we face. It is a great shame that it has not been possible to make this happen with every education union – and it has not been for the want of trying! But ATL and NUT are making a great start.
It seems like professional unity, bringing together these two strong unions, is a fairly obvious step – why has it been so difficult to achieve and why has it taken so long?
MB: Unions have long traditions and passionate activists who are fiercely loyal. Unions are also complex organisations. It is no easy job to bring two unions together. It has taken over two years of negotiations to bring ATL and the NUT to this point. But the effort has been worth it!
KC: Our unions are all proud institutions, they’ve got specific histories that go back many decades before many of us started teaching, and sometimes we just have to show respect to another organisation and not think that our own organisation has a monopoly of wisdom. In the NUT and ATL we’ve been prepared to do that; we want to make this wider, we want to make it so all unions will join, but you can only join with the people who will join with you.
Has the offer been extended to other teachers’ unions to at least join the discussion?
MB: Yes. And the offer remains open to all unions to join with us to transform the lives of teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders, speaking with one voice, on fundamental educational issues – for the good of our pupils and those who educate them.
KC: Absolutely, it has. We have written to all teachers’ unions asking them to be involved in these discussions but not all of them have responded positively.
There will be a ballot coming up soon – what will be your message about this ballot and how would you like members to vote?
KC: My message would be that there is a huge opportunity for education and teachers if we choose to take it. Of course members will have sentimental loyalty to the union that they’re in. The National Education Union can be bigger and better than both the ATL and NUT. It will be a new union, it will have the best of both, it will be a voice for everybody and it’s a real opportunity to take.
MB: This is a once in a generation chance to make a powerful change and to transform your professional voice. It has never been more important for educational professionals to be heard by the politicians and other education stakeholders. The NEU will be that voice. Vote for it.
What’s the climate about the NEU when you’re out talking to politicians and the media?
MB: My conversations with politicians and journalists show me that they are very aware of the prospect of the NEU. The journalists look forward to hearing the views of what will be the biggest, most education union. The politicians regard the prospect with some trepidation – and so they should!
KC: Certainly when I’m talking to politicians of all political parties, they are showing a great deal of interest in this. I think government ministers are a little worried about it and I think they should be. We’ll be a louder and more effective voice for teachers and education working together.