Deborah Lawson (pictured), general secretary of the 30,000-strong Voice, said it was difficult for the union to negotiate over important decisions when the government was reluctant to do so. But she maintained that her organisation was correct in sticking to its no-strike policy.
Ms Lawson, who took over her role in October, said consultations over major issues and policy changes were too short to allow the profession to respond or consult its members.
She pointed particularly to the recent consultation after the School Teachers’ Review Body’s report, which lasted over Christmas (from mid-December to January 4) when it was impossible for the union to canvass its members.
She also expressed concern about the image of the profession because of the way “militant action” by other teaching unions was perceived by the media and public. “The way this action is presented can paint a distorted picture of the profession as a whole,” she added.
“When people ask what my job is, I don’t always get the most encouraging response when I tell them, and this is because there is a general misconception that all teachers are taking militant action.
“When the writing is on the wall and the government is going to continue with its plans regardless, then we have to devote our time, energy and resources to making sure we get the most positive outcomes that we can for our members. We do not want a Mexican stand-off with ministers, we need to find alternative solutions. I believe most teachers don’t want to be in a political struggle.”
Ms Lawson added the speed at which education, and particularly the examinations system, is being reformed is a major worry.
“We had the problems with the marking of English GCSE, a controversy that is on-going, and which led to criticism of the profession from some quarters,” she said.
“Yet the system has allowed schools and teachers to teach to tests, and I fear that the proposed changes to a single, final examination will promote that even further. At the same time we have grave concerns about whether this system will get the best out of some pupils, and we will see more failing.”