27 April 2020

Women of NEU: Emma Thornton on being an NEU Rep and having an impact in the workplace

Hi, my name is Emma Thornton. I have been an English teacher for 13 years. I became a work place rep this September, after returning to work full time after 4 years working part time to look after my daughter. 

In September my school had been placed in special measures and was going to become an academy. The academy trust came into school as part of a service level agreement straight away, so were effectively running the school from November. Over the next few months, I worked alongside the trust to successfully implement a new behaviour policy, a new staff room, new special education provision strategy, and much more. Not long before the lock down, the Local Authority consulted on a support staff restructure. With union support, amendments were made as part of that consultation and we avoided any compulsory redundancies. Now in lockdown, I am supporting members through the changes in their contracts, as part of that restructure. As well as that, the academisation process is due to go ahead for this September. I have liaised with members via email regularly and we are hopeful that the academisation process can still continue as planned through conducting the relevant legalities remotely.

In light of the pandemic, my husband, daughter and I have been shielding since the 17th March on account of our 5 year old daughter having a respiratory condition called Bronchiectasis, which places her in a high risk category. The school, following union guidance, ensured that any staff who were classed as vulnerable, or if they lived with someone vulnerable, such as in my situation, would not be asked to come into work as part of the staffing rota. As such I have been working from home. 

I use zoom conferences and google hangouts to keep in regular contact with the union at national level, and in contact with the head teacher almost weekly. I keep in contact with my members through personal email, checking in regularly with how things are going in school and reiterating the union guidance on keeping safe in school. I also use Whatsapp to keep in touch at regional level with the secretaries and reps in other schools.

It has been difficult at times to ensure my daughter is safe and well. My husband has since been furloughed, and so my income is the main source of finance. I feel incredibly grateful that my school are supportive in following the union guidance to permit me to work from home and can allow me the flexibility to support my daughter at home whilst still technically working. For me, being a working mother during these unprecedented times, has certainly been eased by the protections and guidance established by trade unions in the past and presently. 

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