Daniel Pryor suggests the teaching union’s monopoly is now under threat.
IN RECENT months, a new private organisation offering legal assistance to teachers in the same manner as teaching unions has attracted over 1,000 new members. The Chief Executive of Edapt, John Roberts, has explicitly denied that the company are ‘anti-union’, whilst Education Secretary Michael Gove has described them as a ‘marvellous…apolitical’ organisation in an interview with The Spectator.
Edapt offers teachers employment advice, legal representation for employment or criminal cases and can cover up to £50,000 in legal costs. It has been touted as a ‘trade union alternative for individual employment’, and is hoping to attract those teachers who join unions solely for the purpose of legal protection. One of Edapt’s biggest advantages is that their yearly subscription charge of £140 is nearly a fifth cheaper than typical rates for the UK’s largest teaching unions.
Edapt told The Backbencher that their target subscription level by the end of 2013 is 2,500 members, for which they are currently on target and could possibly exceed. If their business model proves to be successful, future years could see unions facing serious competition from private firms keen to capitalise on those teaching staff that dislike industrial action. A recent Department for Education survey of senior leaders and classroom teachers found that a majority (60%) of them believe staff to be ignoring current ‘work-to-rule’ orders from their unions: which entails performing only the minimum amount of work required by the rules of their contract.
Although a spokesperson for the Department for Education reiterated that Michael Gove’s comments about the organisation made to The Spectator still stand, the General Secretaries of two of Britain’s largest teaching unions are unsurprisingly not convinced that Edapt represent a viable alternative to union membership.
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, spoke to The Backbencher:
‘Any organisation being promoted by Michael Gove is hardly going to be looking after the interest of teachers. If people feel they can solely rely on the law for any kind of protection they will discover that they are sadly mistaken. In the face of the onslaught of this Governments attacks on teachers’ pay and pensions and almost daily criticism, the profession more than ever needs a strong voice to stand up for teachers. Edapt will not provide this and for these reasons the membership of the NUT continues to rise’.
Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT said:
‘I don’t believe they are any threat to us. I don’t think many teachers would want to join an organisation endorsed by Michael Gove.’
Time will tell whether the presence of Edapt as a private-sector provider of occupational support is transient or a further sign of the decline of union power in the United Kingdom.