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Why collective action is key

With NASUWT members at a number of Coventry independent schools taking industrial action over restructuring plans, DEBBIE HAYTON reports on the difficulties of union organising in the private education sector

ABOUT 6.5 per cent of British children are educated privately, and those pupils need teachers.

But without the automatic protection of the National Agreement on Pay and Conditions of Service — the “Burgundy Book” — those teachers can be especially vulnerable. 

When private schools are restructured, jobs can be lost and terms and conditions of employment subject to detriment.

While there is a live debate on the left about even the existence of these businesses, the argument is not with the teachers and education support staff who work for them.

The NASUWT organises across the independent sector but, without automatic trade union recognition, members often lack the collective bargaining rights that other teachers can take for granted.

Organisation of trade union members in these schools is vital.

When working people take collective action — wherever they work — employers take notice.

On Wednesday this week, members of the NASUWT at Bablake School, Bablake Junior School, King Henry VIII School and King Henry VIII Prep School in Coventry took the first of 10 planned days of strike action over the employer’s restructure plans, which would result in significant detriment for staff and potential job loss.

The Coventry School Foundation, which operates the four schools, failed to consult with NASUWT members over the plans, despite the potentially serious implications for their jobs and livelihoods.

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “The employer’s plans have created significant anxiety for NASUWT members employed by the Coventry School Foundation, as well as strong opposition from parents.

“Despite the significance of the plans for teachers’ jobs and livelihoods, the employer has failed to undertake any adequate consultation with its staff or the NASUWT on what these proposed changes will mean for teachers. This is true of both the original plans for the merger and new plans which have been hastily developed.
 
“It is completely unacceptable that teachers should be left in the dark on such critical matters and be denied the opportunity to have their concerns heard by their employer.”

This is a significant dispute. Almost 100 members took strike action on Wednesday.

The NASUWT remains ready to work with the employer to find an alternative plan for the future of education provision at the schools which protects teachers’ jobs and supports the continued provision of high-quality education for every pupil.

But while the restructure precipitated the dispute, the underlying issue was lack of consultation, and that was exacerbated by the lack of a suitable trade union recognition agreement.

Disappointingly, employers in the private sector shy away from these agreements. But they are the fundamental to good industrial relations.

Across the sector, the NASUWT urges employers to come to agreement before it becomes necessary to ballot members for industrial action.

Because, as teachers in Coventry demonstrated this week, NASUWT members in independent schools can and will take action. 

Debbie Hayton is a member of the NASUWT national executive.

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