Emma Williams (@emma_c_williams) was all set to become an academic before coming to the rather inconvenient realisation that she did not enjoy the process of research. She is currently a teacher of Latin in a large comprehensive school in Woking, Surrey. She has been a secondary school teacher for 20 years.
Why I subscribe to Edapt?
Without a doubt, I was an unusual kind of union rep. I led with conscience and passion, yet I was disquieted by union rhetoric, disturbed by division and reluctant to push forward with action.
The government-imposed restructuring of school-based responsibilities during the first decade of the 21st century was handled spectacularly badly at the school where I was then based. Over 40 of my members were facing pay cuts, some of them to the tune of several thousand pounds; a handful of them were a few years off retirement on a final-salary pension, making the financial impact of those decisions even more devastating.
The Head never forgave me for the action I took during that period. Not because I called a strike but because I negotiated a better deal. The crunch point came down to whether the governors were prepared to put that deal into writing; the Head believed that we should take it on trust – he was a big one for gentlemen’s agreements, although not much of a gentleman, as I recall. I explained to him that a few words on a piece of paper were the final sticking point in months of negotiation and that the next stage would unavoidably be a sustained strike.
I will never forget his response. He folded his arms, leaned back in his chair and said: “do what you like.”
Other union reps would have walked out of his office at that point. Maybe I should have done. I know that most of my members would have done. But I didn’t. I took a deep breath and said, “With respect, Sir, I don’t think this is your call to make. You need to phone the Chair of Governors and present him with our request.” To cut a long story short, he did so, and he did so in front of me. The Chair of Governors, it turned out, had no problem with our request; the Head never forgave me for it.
Although I was hugely grateful for the support shown to my members by the union during that period, I continued to be disquieted by their rhetoric even then. I never displayed their promotional posters that screamed impossible demands in bold capitals, visible to the very managers it sought to denigrate – I could not understand how such literature was helpful. I was also stalked by a member of the Socialist Worker Party that I met on a march, and I became increasingly disturbed by the number of influential union members with ties to this group which seemed – in our area at least – to be tantamount to a cult.
Ultimately, my relationship with the union fell apart when further strikes were demanded in the years to come, including one which I felt strongly had not been balloted for appropriately. I wrote to them and told them that I would not be striking for this reason and that they should remove me from their list of members should they see fit; they did not, but in the end I left of my own accord.
Much of the continued rhetoric used by unions disturbs me and it disappoints me that unions are always presented in the media as representing “what teachers think”. I agree with very little of what they say about education as a whole and I do not feel confident that any of the unions represent me, my beliefs or my priorities. It would therefore seem dishonest to remain a part of them. It is a source of regret to me that unions behave in the way that they do, as I still see great value in their potential for strength and support. It is unfortunate that they are dominated by members of a certain mindset and their propensity to drive away members like me will only serve to perpetuate this.
I had a brief spell between unions, tried more than one and then finally broke all ties when the NEU was formed. I am therefore exceedingly grateful that Edapt exists to provide the support and advice that I might need one day.