2024 Spring Term


  • The Greatest Job in Education
    As Geoff Barton bids farewell, he reflects on his seven years as General Secretary, thanking members for their support for what he says has been the greatest job in education - serving you. More
  • The Next Chapter
    ASCL General Secretary Designate Pepe Di'Iasio is immensely proud to represent members across the UK and in all sectors of education. Here he sets out his plans for the future of the association. More
  • A lasting legacy
    As ASCL's oldest and one of its longest-standing members, 94 year-old past president Geoff Goodall's encounter with an interviewer set him on a path that would see him at the forefront of education reform, and a career that spanned over five decades. Here, he talks to Dorothy Lepkowska. More
  • ASCL Women Trailblazers
    Chair of ASCL's Women Leaders' Network Becky Arnold reflects on the inspirational and vital role women have played throughout ASCL's 150-year history. More
  • Perfect Match
    Proud ASCL member and Senior Deputy Headteacher Helen Wakefield takes readers through her own changing relationship with trade unions. More
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Perfect Match

Proud ASCL member and Senior Deputy Headteacher Helen Wakefield takes readers through her own changing relationship with trade unions.

At 16, I started my first ‘proper job’ for the local authority. Hidden among pages of the new employee paperwork, I came across information from the trade union. Having gained little (if any) knowledge from my schooling about trade unions I asked my dad if I should join. This question was met with a simple response, “Yes. You never know when you might need them, duck.” And so it began, my evolving relationship with a trade union. 

First, as a teenager new to the ‘world of work’, I needed to know what I was signing up for and, more importantly, what I was spending my hard-earned money on before it had even made it into my bank account. 

While my educational experience had failed to gift me with the knowledge and purpose of trade unions, it was successful in giving me the skills to find out for myself. 

Trade unions: set up by groups of employees to protect their rights, and campaign for fair wages and safer working conditions. Providing support and advice for union members who have been treated unfairly by their employers. (OK, I got why I ‘might need them’.) 

Five years later, during my teacher training and newly qualified teacher (NQT) years, I took advantage of the numerous free memberships that were available by several teaching unions. Up until this point in my life I had never needed a wall calendar or pocket diary. However, as a cash-strapped student, I took advantage of the marketing techniques being used to entice membership and signed up, becoming the owner of more wall calendars and pocket diaries than I would ever need. 

Recognising the differences 

It was during my ‘free membership’ years that I learned a little bit more about the differences in trade unions’ principles and collective action. In 2008, members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) were set for their first national strike in 21 years (the previous national strike was under Thatcher’s government in 1987) in reaction to a proposed pay rise that fell below the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) had accepted the proposed rise, suggesting that the priority for its members was excessive workload rather than pay. There I was, a member of both unions (and others), with what felt like a decision to make on which ‘side to take’. 

I made that decision, and for the next nine years maintained a paid subscription for a union that best matched my personal principles. During that time I worked in two different schools, both with strong union representation, and attended meetings with school representatives. 

When I secured my first senior leadership position in school, I chose to remain as a member of my union of choice, however, within a year of leadership I found that discussions in union meetings were often in conflict with my role as a school leader, and while my core principles remained, I needed a professional association that would safeguard me in the role of both school leader and teacher. 

The true value of membership 

My relationship with my trade union changed significantly when I became a member of ASCL. Never before had I explored the ‘resources’ available from a union. But from day one of my membership with ASCL, I have taken advantage of the ‘members’ area’ of the website (www.ascl.org.uk), with its extensive range of resources to support the role of senior leaders. 

I have developed a love/hate relationship with the briefing emails (www.ascl.org.uk/newsletters). Love because I am able to keep ‘on top’ of the world of education beyond the gates of the schools in which I have been a senior leader, and hate because they often mean that I have to add to my ‘to do list’. My membership not only provides the security that comes from being a member of a union, but it also plays a huge role in my continued professional development. 

It was during the pandemic that I really understood the value of my membership. ASCL played a key role in representing views of the frontline. By conducting complex work at both national and local level, there is no doubt that the retention of school leaders would be in a worse state today without the daily support that ASCL provided senior leaders during this period. 

Recent work concerning industrial action over issues of pay, conditions, inadequacy of school funding and teacher shortages have had a positive impact at national, school and individual level across the country. ASCL’s influence in shaping education policy should never go under the radar. Each and every one of us has a reason to be grateful for work ASCL has done and continues to do. 

Unfortunately, after more than 20 years of ‘paying’ subscriptions to a trade union, that day came… “You never know when you might need them, duck” rang in my ears; I had concerns about my own employment and needed to access the member support hotline. ASCL’s hotline team, field and regional officers I had contact with during this time, provided honest and empathetic advice. They were able to represent and support me and they were invaluable. 

So, here I am, proud to be a member of this community, a community whose principles match my own, who speaks on behalf of its members and acts on behalf of children and young people. 

Thank you ASCL and many happy returns.   


If you need any help or advice, call the ASCL hotline on 0116 299 1122 or email hotline@ascl.org.uk As one ASCL member said: “ASCL has been amazing and supported me throughout one of the most difficult times of my professional life.” And as another member commented: “I cannot put into words the debt of gratitude I have for ASCL.”  

Helen Wakefield
Senior Deputy Headteacher at Ashby School, part of the LiFE Multi-Academy Trust in Leicestershire

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