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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Which is the best teachers' union?
lobbying conference delegates
They all want your involvement
Someone returning to teaching in England after a break to raise a family asked BBC News Online which union she should join. So we asked the unions themselves what they would say in 250 words to try to recruit her.

We also sought the view of the General Teaching Council, which teachers now have to subscribe to - our teacher wondered if that meant there was no point in joining a union.

Membership figures supplied by the unions. Subscription fees are the normal annual rates for full-time teachers - often there are discounts for part-timers, new members, etc.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers
members: 150,000 subs: 114
opening quotes
Why join a union at all?

The answer is straightforward. For less than the cost of an hour's interview with a high street solicitor, you can access a full range of top-flight legal services for as long as it takes.

Your subscription buys you public liability insurance, a must in an increasingly litigious world. If you have an accident at work, your union will take on your case and, at no cost to you, get you the best compensation deal.

Ask yourself one simple question: Will you pay more to insure the contents of your deep freeze than to protect your own professional livelihood, in sickness or in health?

So, which union to join?

All the teacher unions will try to sign you up - but whose claims should you believe?

The union that claims to be the biggest may not necessarily represent you as the professional you are. But if you are happy with the image of teachers as seaside conference hecklers, then the choice is simple.

You may prefer a union which prides itself as scoring 10 out of 10 on militant sound-bites. You will have no difficulty in making your pick.

But you may want to join a union which will inform you without insulting you with spin. A union which is not the largest but is so influential that a prime minister decided to speak to its conference earlier this year. You may opt for the thinking teachers' choice - the ATL.

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National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers
members: 190,000 subs: 108
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The NASUWT aims to provide first class services for teachers and to campaign for improved working conditions. Success has led to a steady rise in membership to more than 190,000, making it one of the largest teaching unions.

The NASUWT covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Members range from trainees to heads - in nursery schools to further education colleges. It has the highest number of student teachers.

A network of experienced staff offer advice and support in 13 regional offices. Others work from head office in Rednal to deliver services including legal representation for cases such as unfair dismissal, advice on government initiatives, guidance on activities such as school trips, promotion of equal opportunities, support on issues such as homophobic bullying, training and professional courses, and financial services.

The NASUWT has led campaigns for smaller class sizes, cuts to workloads and an end to classroom violence. These have led to historic court victories including the Wandsworth ruling, which agreed teachers could boycott non-teaching work, and the Bonus Pastor ruling, which supported teachers' rights not to educate violent pupils.

Teachers elect 41 members to the national executive. Together these representatives, rather than higher officials, direct the union.

The NASUWT is not linked to any political party. Its aim to protect and promote the interests of the education service means it has representatives on a range of professional and advisory bodies as well as an active role in the Trades Union Congress.

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National Union of Teachers
members: 215,000 subs: 105
opening quotes
At the last count, 215,000 in-service teachers had decided the professional association for them was the National Union of Teachers. That's more than half of all qualified teachers in service in England and Wales: Unlike other organisations, the union takes into membership only qualified teachers and does not recruit in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Their reasons for joining will vary but research for the union showed the first priority was the legal services provided. With solicitors and professional caseworkers in each of its nine regional offices and in Wales, the union has a unique record of representing members faced with legal or professional problems.

At the heart of its work are its twin concerns to promote the teaching profession and the education service for the benefit of pupils and teachers. Bread-and-butter issues such as salaries, conditions of service or pensions are central to the union's work. But it also develops policies for educational reforms which enhance the profession and the education of pupils.

It provides a massive range of benefits covering all aspects of a teacher's professional life, including personal accident insurance, cover for cars and personal property on school premises. There is also a vast range of discounted benefits including a card offering cut-price shopping, entertainment and travel.

But most important is the fact that the union listens to its members' views and needs and promotes their aims in its dealings with governments of whatever political persuasion, with local authorities and with other bodies involved in education.

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Professional Association of Teachers
members: 30,000 subs: 118
opening quotes
Like other unions, PAT provides a range of professional services, including legal support and advice on practice, pay and conditions; local and national representation, useful publications, a website and commercial benefits such as discounts on insurance, healthcare and other goods and services.

What makes PAT special are its size and unique status. PAT is large enough to represent its members to national government, but small enough for head office staff and the network of local officials across the UK to know many of its members personally.

Wherever members are in the country, there is someone who can help and advise them. There is a 24-hour emergency national helpline to back up this network.

As its name suggests, professionalism is central to PAT's philosophy and so it includes in membership not only teachers, but also head teachers, lecturers, support staff and childcarers - the whole team of professionals who work together to care for and educate our children and learners of all ages, from nursery to tertiary, throughout the UK and beyond. PAT campaigns for teachers and childcarers to be given greater recognition as professionals.

With its unique no-strike policy, PAT believes that the professional teacher puts the interests of the child or student first. PAT is respected for its success at achieving results for individual members and the profession as a whole by negotiation, not conflict.

PAT is also unique because it is independent of the TUC and party political influence, making it the independent union for independent professionals.

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General Teaching Council

All teachers now have to be registered with the new General Teaching Council at a cost of 23 a year, whether they want to or not. So we also asked the English council to explain its role - and whether it supplanted that of a trade union.

opening quotes
The General Teaching Council is the new professional body for teachers. It serves as a regulatory body which means, for the first time, the teaching profession will take responsibility for its own standards.

This is an important step in raising the status of teaching and putting it on an equal footing with other established professions like medicine and the law. All qualified teachers teaching in maintained schools or non-maintained special schools must be registered with the GTC.

The GTC also has a statutory duty to advise government and others on key educational issues. The GTC draws on the expertise of practising teachers and is committed to consulting widely with the profession through face-to-face meetings and via our website at

Our drive for an entitlement to continuing professional development for teachers has already had a significant impact, securing 92m of new government money. Our current priority is to look at ways of ensuring that teachers are supported and encouraged to stay in teaching.

We work closely with the teacher unions and associations but have a very different role. Membership of a union or association is voluntary. We have no role in negotiating pay and conditions, or the representation of individual teachers. But the council recognises that teachers should be properly paid and have the resources to do the job.

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See also:

18 Apr 01 | Education
Unions unite over 35-hour week
17 Apr 01 | Education
Teachers' image conscious future
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