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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 16:15 GMT
Support grows for teacher super-union
Mergers: Would there be benefits in the classroom?
The prospect of a merger between teaching unions - who have often been at loggerheads - has come a step closer.

The second biggest union - the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) - is to debate the issue with members.

In the past, the NASUWT was the union most opposed to a merger.

The biggest union - the National Union of Teachers - has long supported the idea of unity.

Eamonn O'Kane
Eamonn O'Kane: "A need to modernise the unions"
The issue has been pushed forward for debate by NASUWT members by the union's general secretary designate, Eamonn O'Kane.

In a paper to the executive, he set out the arguments for a merger with the NUT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and persuaded the leadership to send the paper to members for debate.

He hopes members could vote on the matter by the end of the year.

"I believe that teachers could be stronger together, because unity is more effective than disunity, so we should seriously consider a possible merger," he told BBC News Online.

"I think the idea will gain momentum as teachers from different unions talk about it in their staff rooms."

Powerful impact

Mr O'Kane said the arguments for merger were economic and philosophical and also related to the need to modernise the union.

He said younger teachers especially wanted the union to provide courses to help them in their work and this would need to be paid for, so it made sense to save money by cutting the duplication of resources by different unions.

The NUT has welcomed the NASUWT's move.

The union's general secretary Doug McAvoy said: "I am surprised but delighted that Eamonn O'Kane is generating a debate on professional unity among the NASUWT members. 

A merger could have a powerful impact on the educational world

Eamonn O'Kane, NASUWT
"The NUT's position is well known.  The NUT is prepared to go out of business in favour of a new organisation if there is a similar willingness on the part of the NASUWT. 

"A new teachers' organisation for all teachers, bringing together members of ATL, NASUWT and NUT, would provide a powerful and persuasive voice for all teachers."

He said he was sure there would be firm support for such a change.

The unions have already been working together, most successfully last year in the campaign to get the government to cut teachers' workloads.

"A merger could have a powerful impact on the educational world," said Mr O' Kane.

"Parents would think it made sense, because they would know who was speaking for teachers.

"But I think the government will be ambivalent.

"Ministers have said it would be nice to talk to the unions as a unified group, but they have in the past been able to exploit the differences between the unions."

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is not enthusiastic about a merger.

The deputy general secretary Gerald Imison said: "We remain to be convinced of the benefits to our members of a super-union.

"We haven't yet heard any arguments that convince us it would be to the advantage of the profession."

See also:

17 Apr 01 | Education
Teachers' image conscious future
06 Mar 01 | Education
Teaching unions adopt united front
14 Apr 01 | Education
Blunkett turns on teacher hecklers
14 Apr 01 | Education
Tories attack teacher unions
28 Jun 99 | Education
McAvoy defeats left-wing challenge
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