Unionised, but not necessarily militant
A recent report for the DfE from the NfER about trade union activity among teachers in state funded schools in England found a high degree of membership of professional associations among the 1,600 teachers surveyed during November 2012, but a less active participation rate in the current round of work to rule by some of the associations. Teachers were members, but not at the current time necessarily militant ones.
Of the 1,305 classroom teachers in the survey, all but 3% were members of professional associations, as were the same percentage of the 300 school leaders surveyed. Two thirds of classroom teachers belonged to either the NUT or the NASUWT, with the former more dominant in the primary sector and the positions reversed in the secondary sector. That’s good news for the NUT who can probably expect their membership to grow as more primary teachers are recruited over the next few years in order to meet the growth in the school population. At least the NASUWT can reflect that once the secondary school population increases later in the decade they may be well benefit more.
The most popular reason for joining a union was to have support if there was a problem at work. Seven out of ten teachers (72%) cited this as their main reason. The second and third most popular reasons were a belief in trade unions (11%) and the campaigning that unions do on issues that mattered to teachers (6%). These top three reasons were ranked the same across school phases and levels of seniority. That barely more than one in ten of respondents cited a belief in trade unions as their main reason for joining a trade union probably reflects the age we now live in. Despite the economic downturn, the position of unions in society isn’t what it was during the first half of the last century.
Two teaching unions (NUT and NASUWT) were instructing their members to ‘work to rule’ at the time of the survey in November 2012. Two-thirds of respondents belonged to the NUT and NASUWT, the two unions taking action. When asked whether they thought the current ‘work to rule’ was having an impact in their school, the majority of all respondents (60%) said that staff were not working to rule, and therefore there was no impact. Eight per cent said that teachers at their school were working to rule, but that it was not having an impact, and ten per cent were not sure if the working to rule at their school was having an impact. Thirteen per cent of respondents said they did not know if staff members were working to rule or not. Only nine per cent of all respondents overall said they thought that working to rule was having an impact at their school.
After several years of a pay freeze, and with union general secretaries telling their members at every opportunity that the government is cutting funding for education, classroom teachers don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm for militancy as their leaders would expect if this survey is accurate; and there is no reason to doubt the survey methods used by the NfER.