Strong, healthy education systems are possible when governments include teachers’ unions in policy decision making was the message Education International made clear to Britain’s education stakeholders recently in London.
Some of the United Kingdom’s most prominent education stakeholders convened in London in early November to tackle how best to govern education. The Politics in Education Summit brought major issues to light, including funding and government responsibility for education.
Among the participants, Education International (EI)’s John Bangs argued that the best education systems are those which are prioritised by their governments and are supported by strong, professional teachers’ unions.
He underlined that the healthiest education systems are not only those where governments give education top priority, but where they invest in functioning, co-ordinated systems which respond to the needs of children and young people. These governments, Bangs said, understand that teachers are their greatest resource and that the organisations which represent teachers - their unions - are an enormous repository of experience and knowledge and are a force for improvement.
“Teacher unions are the core of the teaching profession,” said Bangs, who added that governments ignore at their peril the fact that, globally, not only does the public sector have the highest density of union membership but within the public sector, teachers are the most unionised of all professions.
Time for governments to listen to teachers’ unions
Bangs referred to EI’s survey of teacher unions in OECD countries, which found that teacher unions’ policy engagement with governments was only partial at best. Only half had proper consultation and negotiation structures, and engagement in policy implementation was actually of poorer quality than policy development. Even the OECD’s TALIS 2013 report recommended that policy makers should consider providing guidance on distributed leadership (also known as teacher leadership) at system level.
The next opportunity for teachers’ unions to discuss policy face-to-face with governments is fast approaching. In March, the 6th International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) in Berlin brings together union leaders and education ministers from around the world to actively collaborate on ways to make stronger public education systems.