NEU members at Christ’s Hospital School have long enjoyed tacit recognition; we are really pleased that we have successfully established formal recognition of the NEU
This means that our employer will negotiate with NEU staff representatives on any major change proposed to terms and conditions. To this end, we have established a Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) for the purposes of negotiating on pay, holiday and hours and consultation on terms and conditions of service.
The staff covered by the agreement are teachers and matrons – a first for the NEU – with the work issues of matrons being specifically addressed.
While ultimately we would like to have secured collective rights for all staff, we had to make a pragmatic decision based on the areas where the strength of our membership would guarantee success.
Three main factors were crucial to achieving recognition.
First, we established a rep team. There are now three NEU school reps, with Becca O’Connell, elected by the matrons, alongside two teacher reps, Ian Stannard and me.
Second, the building of a large union membership in the school.
Third, we sought to establish and maintain good relations - between union representatives, members of the Common Room, and the senior Management Team.
And of course, we made the most of the NEU resources – including NEU regional and national union officials as well as NEU reps in other independent schools.
The germ of recognition at Christ’s Hospital, could perhaps be traced back to 2011. The successful joint campaign between ATL and NUT that defeated government proposals to eject all independent school members from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme gave us an understanding of the importance of collective action.
Since that time, we have been thinking about the most effective ways in which staff and management can communicate.
The creation of the NEU aided the process hugely, as it meant that we had a lot more members in one union.
In June 2016, our Common Room committee set up a group to look at different models of staff consultation. In the spring of 2017, we concluded that the JNC model would suit us best; however, it was felt the move towards gaining voluntary recognition should coincide with the appointment of our new Head, Simon Reid, in September 2017.
In November 2017, I attended the NEU national independent schools conference. It is a great get-together with invaluable networking opportunities with other active members working in the independent sector.
A special mention goes to Simon Northwood, NEU rep at Charterhouse, who provided practical advice and encouragement from his recent experience in establishing recognition of NEU.
In December 2017, union and Common Room reps met with the Head to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile a variety of issues facing boarding house matrons led to their number in the NEU leaping from 4 to 16 in early 2018, giving them a union density equivalent to that for teachers.
In June 2018, John Richardson, NEU National Official for the independent sector, came to talk to our SLT and, separately, with teaching staff and matrons.
With 75% of teachers and matrons in the NEU, we had a statutory right to union recognition and collective union representation. However, we felt that we should hold a ballot of all teachers and matrons, as the proposal would represent a major shift in the workplace culture. A very high turnout for the ballot resulted in an overwhelming majority in favour.
Talks then took place between SLT and NEU staff reps during the Autumn term of 2018, with the NEU model recognition agreement forming the basis of what was eventually agreed upon in early 2019.
So, it took a while, but I would encourage all members working in the independent sector to strengthen staff voice through the recognition of our union.
Now the hard work starts. We are looking forward to tackling the issues that directly affect the daily work of staff with renewed vigour!