Using school forums as an organising tool

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2023 National Local Government Service Group Conference
17 February 2023

Conference notes that the continued fragmentation of the school system, together with the geographical spread of schools, provides organising challenges for UNISON.

The use of school forums to bring together activists from across schools in branches is well established as best practice to develop collective responses to the common issues we face.

The ability to hold these virtually has also assisted in making attendance accessible to those with caring commitments or those who are unable to travel. Face-to-face meetings in schools are also vital.

South Tyneside Local Government branch plays an active part in working with school reps, contacts and members. We regularly attend school visits, where we meet our members and discuss their concerns, issues and worries.

We have also established some positive relationships with school leaders, and, it is through these relationships that we were able to use some school facilities to host cluster meetings. All school support staff were invited to attend.

More recently, we have raised that there is a lack of Continuous Professional Development for our members in schools. There is little or no training or learning opportunities for our members, and this is impacting on their daily working; no sharing of good practice, a general feeling of exploitation through hours of unpaid overtime and teaching on the cheap.

Having a regional schools forum supported by local branch school forums develops a network of activists that can mentor and support each other as it is easy for an individual rep to feel overwhelmed within their own school. It is also a great way of encouraging interested members to become more involved in their union.

Within the Northern Region, the first school support staff seminar since Covid was held in February to help develop capacity of reps across the schools in our region. Through the discussions on the day, it was clear there are significant concerns from our members on violence in schools and the work UNISON had done on this was well received.

Conference believes the production of UNISON guidance and model policy on issues such as this, and other issues facing support staff, has been invaluable to support the work of our school forums.

Conference calls on the local government service group to:

1)Continue to support the use of local and regional school forums as best practice;

2)Continue to provide guidance on key issues facing school to assist learning and development within our activist base;

3)Assist in the development of agendas for school forums in terms of subject matter and potential guest speakers.