The merger between NUT and ATL is to be welcomed. It comes after years of hard work by campaigners in both unions, especially Hank Roberts who has worked tirelessly for the cause for decades. A united teaching force of nearly half a million teachers, support staff and lecturers is the last thing the government wants. Hopefully it will engender more confidence in teachers to speak out, especially in academies, where there can be major obstacles put in the way of unions and many teachers have become scared to speak out.
It is to be regretted that the NAS/UWT leadership does not yet subscribe to the view that they should do this for the greater good of the profession, given that now around 60% of their members support such a move. In the meantime the NUT and ATL must try to remain focused on the battle for education while working out the finer points of the merger.
There are many such battles ahead, apart from the introduction of selection, meaning a secondary modern system which the government will have to push through in the teeth of huge opposition from just about everybody, including many Tory MPs.
Funding is becoming a huge issue. It’s estimated that schools are facing the worst funding cuts since the 1970s – an average of 8% per pupil according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies. This can mean budget cuts of tens of thousands of pound in some schools. The National Association of Head Teachers has written to chancellor Phillip Hammond, ahead of the Autumn Statement, calling for more money after a poll found that 69 per cent of school leaders believe their deficits will be untenable by 2020.
There is a major recruitment crisis. For example there is an estimated shortage of 10,000 teachers in the nursery sector. There are many reasons for this, including cuts in funding, which are also hitting teaching assistant numbers. Excessive workload and salary rises held down for so long have led to teachers leaving the profession. Government attacks on teacher training have diluted its quality and fewer teachers have been recruited to courses.
With all this going on it will be important to be focused about which battles to fight. At the same time, the merger process could be used as an opportunity to re-energise organisation at a school and local branch level.
The unions should take the best of their policies and manifestos to make demands of government – it would be excellent if the first major document to emerge from the new union was a vision for education.