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Report: What do teachers think of their unions?

A new report released today by LKMCo explores what teachers think of their unions, and defines three different categories of approach – the collectivists, the functionalist and the critics.

(See below for a copy of the report)

The report is the result of a consultation, funded by edapt, with over 350 teachers, through surveys and interviews between January and June 2012. The authors of the forward to the report, Laura McInerney and Loic Menzies, explain that they:

“see this report as an opportunity to bypass political distortion of what teachers do and do not think about unions and to actually ask them what they think. What are the thoughts, feelings and values behind their decisions to join, stay or leave a trade union?”

Collectivists: have strong feelings about unions, believe they are improving education and that being a member is every teacher’s duty. Around 25% of the teachers LKMCo consulted with fitted this category.

Functionalists: know what they want from their unions – support and protection. Of Functionalists – also around 25% of the sample - a third are satisfied with getting this support and protection from a union, a third would prefer an alternative, and a third are undecided.

Critics: do not think that education in the UK is better as a result of the unions and are critical of aspects of unions work, particularly the political stance, though they are often satisfied with the support and protection.  Around 15% of the teachers LKMCo consulted with fit this category. 5 – 10% of the total sample were both critics and actively dissatisfied or had already left or never joined a union.

As the NUT and NASUWT ballot on the upcoming strike on pay and working conditions draws to a close on 6th September, this report aims to examine why teaching remains so unionised despite only a 40% turnout in the 2011 summer ballot to strike.

The report begins by exploring the reasons that teachers join a union, then looks at their experiences of interacting with unions; reasons for changing unions; and concludes with defining three broad categories of feeling (see right). The report looks at the many different aspects that contribute to a teacher’s perception of unions, ranging from very personal interactions to their public image.

The report shows that the most important reasons for teachers joining a union are the need for support in case of an allegation and support in case of an employment dispute. (p. 17) Collective bargaining and collective voice were the next most important functions, although the more in depth interviews revealed different understandings of what teachers took these to mean.

The report reflects the widely reported view that teachers work in fear of false allegations. The 6% of the sample who were not in unions were unable to explain what they would do if they faced an allegation. One respondent just said they would “Cry!” The report suggests that this fear leads teachers to feel they need more than just insurance for legal costs, as they value advice and support (p. 20).

The report reveals a wide spectrum of views, ranging in strength of feeling from the passionate to the ambivalent, and quotes directly opposing opinions. When it came to politics, for example, one teacher thought unions should take defensive stance and “ensure education is secure from inappropriate political meddling”, while another thought unions should actively “oppose the destruction of state education”, and another thought that unions should “be apolitical”. (p. 21)

The report suggests that those who do fit neatly in the ‘collectivists’ position see unions playing a vital role, and reveals that many teachers feel very loyal to unions who have given them valuable support in times of need. It also suggests that the size of teaching union membership does not necessarily indicate that these feelings are universal. Within the membership figures, it seems there is a critical mass of teachers for whom joining a union is currently a necessity. These, together with teachers who choose not to be part of a union at all, suggest there is scope for an alternative.

edapt exists to provide that alternative. To find out more, see our membership page, and to join, click here

To find out more:

LKMCo report
  • Download a summary here
  • Download a full report here
  • Read the key findings and LKMCo press release here





To share your views on the report:


Alistair W. on 05-09-2012

It's interesting to actually see the numbers highlighted in the report about what teachers actually want from their unions and how different can be between individual teachers. Whilst the different groups of collectivists, functionalists and critics might generalise things a bit, I can definitely identify colleagues both past and present that fall into those groups. With the number of changes being made to education policy, I'd expect these groups to potenially polarise further.

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