The General Election is occurring at a time when teachers’ unions in the UK are more visible, active and successful than in recent history. In fact, their voices have been remarkably powerful on issues of school funding and teacher workload over this past school year. More recently though, the three major teacher trade unions – the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) , the National Union of Teachers (NUT) , and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) — have been involved in public debates about election politics and their voices have been particularly loud on social media.
This voice in the education debate is coming through clearly on Twitter. The campaigns are diverse and include several major themes:
1. Get out the vote!
These kinds of tweets demonstrate the voice of teacher trade unions as promoters of democratic participation in government and as a collective force engaged in politics. With the unions in this role, members are cast as active citizens, not simply as workers.
More directly, unions are weighing in on . . . .
2. Education as a voting issue
The hashtags #Vote4Education and #voteforyourrights are used in the context of requests for the next government, but without any direct reference to political parties. Although these tweets do not make a specific statement about a political party, they are hinting at a current government that is less supportive of education than other parties may be.
NUT released this video about school funding cuts which has had more than 38,000 views in two weeks. The message is clear that the current government is bad for education. While they refrain from naming the Conservative party, Theresa May features prominently in the background video. These (somewhat) apolitical statements have the potential to bring in voters who care about education and persuade them to vote against the current government.
But in case the message wasn’t clear enough, the unions are also engaging in . . .
3. Party-specific comments and critiques
(Kevin Courtney is the General Secretary for NUT).
In this example, a teacher trade union is fully engaged in politics and raising their voice in favor and in opposition to certain parties. Both of these examples are from the NUT or an NUT representative. The NUT has historical ties to the Labour party — the current opposition party in the election and the most powerful adversary to the current government.
In summary, during this election there has been a significant message from teachers unions. It isn’t simply “go out and vote” — the message is “if you care about education, use your voice and vote!” And for some of the unions, the message is to vote for or against certain political parties. To find out if these voices worked, we’ll just have to see how it turns out on June 8!