Teacher unions: organising in Academyland

February 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

downhillsI recently undertook a small-scale research project with Justine Mercer (University of Warwick) looking at industrial relations issues in a single local authority in which large numbers of schools were converting to Academies.  Although the choice of LA was initially random it subsequently turned out to be highly significant. As the report indicates, the LA moved from one with virtually no Academy schools to an LA with one of the highest rates of conversion in the country – all in the space of 18 months.  One of the union branch secretaries recently remarked to me ‘I went from negotiating with 1 employer, to over 100 employers, all in the space of a year.’ [Hence my reference to ‘Academyland’ – a context in which individual schools, whether Academies or LA maintained, function in an environment shaped by widescale Academisation].

The report can be downloaded here. The research was funded by BELMAS.

As with all research, the work reported reflects a moment in time.  The beginnings and ends of projects are inevitably arbitrary, to a greater or lesser extent.  This study captures developments at a period of rapid change, but the end of the project is by no means the end of the story.  The report offers some tentative future outcomes, depending on the types of strategies adopted by the teacher unions.  At the time of the research, these strategies were just emerging, but since the data was collected events have been moving more rapidly.  For example, one of the large classroom teacher unions has appointed a full-time organiser to work in the LA, with a focus on developing workplace representation. This followed a major strategic review of union organisation in the LA involving local association officers and senior officers of the national union.

Clearly, it remains to be seen if this strategy proves to be effective (perhaps that is Phase 2 of the research?).  However, it does represent a decisive strategic response to a very distinct issue, with substantial implications for school-based union organisation. The outcomes are likely to have considerable significance not just for other local associations, but for public sector trade unionism more widely.

If you have any comments about the report – Justine and I would be happy to respond to emails. But using the ‘comment’ facility on the blog makes any discussion more open and inclusive.

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