Industrial action by teaching unions in response to the coalition government’s education reforms are polarising teachers’ views on their unions’ activities, according to a report.
Some teachers are furious at the national developments, which has led them to “blow my whistle and fly my flag” for the first time in protest at changes, and feel grateful that union leaders are “working hard to protect me against the work Gove is doing to destroy schools in England”.
However, others feel embarrassed by the work-to-rule and “intransigence” of their unions.
The study, by LKMco, a Cambridge education “think-and-action tank”, said views on unions had changed over the last year.
The report, Collectivists, Functionalists and Critics: What do teachers think of their unions?, found that overall levels of satisfaction with unions were extremely high. However, this varied according to the different roles unions perform with 74 per cent satisfied with unions’ collective bargaining and only 57 per cent with the way unions raise the professional status of teachers.
The findings come as the NASUWT and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) are carrying out a joint campaign of industrial action short of strike action in protest at government reforms to pensions and wider education policy.
The unions represent around 85 per cent of classroom teachers and are operating a work-to-rule policy.
John Dixon, the NUT’s assistant secretary, with responsibility for organising the action, said: “It is early days for us but it is pleasing to hear it is starting to take effect, with staff attending fewer meetings and having more time to do the job of teaching.”
In a snapshot survey for SecEd, headteachers revealed a mixed impact so far.
One said that it was having “no effect”, adding: “Staff (are) working incredibly hard and currently seem happy that requests are reasonable. We are in a market to try to fill places and all of the staff are concentrating on this rather than outside garbage. Plus they supported unanimously the day of action, which resulted in loss of pay and for what?”
Another said: “My colleagues are using the pre-strike action to opt out of things they cannot be bothered to do while still cherry-picking the things they like. The leadership team has to pick up the slack but ‘who cares about them because they get paid lots of money’.”
A third added: “It is a shame that the language used by the unions in their advice to members comes across as anti-school management and not as a national political campaign. It is also very unclear as to what impact the action is supposed to have, it will pass by unnoticed by politicians but having made schools difficult to run effectively.”
General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Brian Lightman, also said that the impact so far has been varying across the country. He told SecEd: “Feedback we are getting is that the impact is varying considerably across regions and schools, with no noticeable effect in many schools but a small minority of others being significantly hit.
"The focus in particular is on classroom observation and performance management processes. School leaders are mainly concerned about how they can maintain good relationships with all staff in often tense circumstances, while continuing to carry out their duty to monitor the quality of teaching and raise standards. It is still too early to tell what, if any, the long-term effect will be.”
However, Chris Keates, NASUWT’s general secretary, reported that the action was having "a major impact in schools, given the number of employers who are attempting to threaten and intimidate our members".
She added: “It continues to be pupil, parent and public friendly, enabling teachers to get on with their job. There is no doubt the members feel empowered and that the action is helping them to tackle the issues which are damaging their morale and motivation.”
CAPTION: Teachers unite: UK teachers and heads joined strike action last year over pension reforms. Currently, NASUWT and NUT members are working to rule as part of ‘pupil-friendly’ action (Photo: Lucie Carlier)