This article has been written in partnership with AGCAS.
With so many work-related pressures, becoming a member of a teaching union makes sense. This is especially true in the current climate, with parents making increased demands, a litigious culture and high levels of stress.
From time to time, you may need the help and support in your career that trade unions can provide. Make sure you do your research and work out what you want from a union before joining as each one has a slightly different offering.
The benefits of belonging to a teaching union
Teaching is one of the most demanding professions around, so teachers should have access to guidance, support, and legal and professional advice if they need it. Trade unions provide these services and much more, including:
- raising the status of teachers
- campaigning for better schools, resources and teacher to pupil ratios
- working for a healthier and safer working environment
- promoting equality in schools and other educational settings
- providing professional development for teachers
- supporting members experiencing difficulties
- campaigning for improved salaries, pensions and conditions of service.
A teacher trade union is there to operate in your best interests. It's made up of teachers and speaks for teachers. It prioritises teachers' needs and protects and represents them.
Free and paid membership
When you start your teacher training course you can be a member of as many trade unions as you like: they are all free during the initial teacher training period. You can join at a freshers' fair, over the phone or online at the website of an individual union.
Most unions also offer free membership or reduced subscriptions for your first year of teaching. Once you become eligible to pay for membership, most unions will let you spread the subscription cost across the year. Rates for qualified teachers vary depending on how long you’ve been teaching and whether you teach part time or full time.
Choosing a union
Most teachers decide which union they will stay with when they have to start paying a subscription. If you have been a member of one or more unions during your training period, this will have given you insight into the services they offer and whether you are happy with these. You can also find out about each union on its website. These are the questions you should ask yourself to help you decide:
- Does the union organise in my geographical area?
- Does the union organise in my sector, eg primary or secondary?
- What are the union’s key policies?
- What legal and professional protection am I entitled to?
- What other benefits and services come with union membership?
- Does the union offer training and professional development?
- Does the union campaign for equal opportunities both for teachers and for pupils?
- Is the union affiliated to a political party or to the TUC (Trades Union Congress, which represents the majority of unions in England and Wales)?
- How big is the union?
- How much do I hear about the union in the press and media?