The role of the rep

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Rep Zone
08 February 2017
Frequently asked questions on the role of rep, including what to do when starting out, your rights as a rep and the process of electing and appointing reps.

Starting out

I have just taken on the duties of rep at my school/college. What things do I need to do to get started?

If you have informed ATL (by emailing the membership department with details of yourself and your workplace) then you will be tagged as a rep on our membership system and you will have been sent your started pack.

As the guide suggests, there are five things you should do to get started in the role.

  1. Get trained up. Book yourself onto an ATL one-day induction training course as soon as possible. This is essential in ensuring you become effective in your new role. You are entitled to paid time off to attend and ATL will reimburse your travel expenses. Find details of course dates and venues.
  2. Get noticed. Claim your ATL space on the staffroom noticeboard. Put up the noticeboard header and recruitment posters, which are enclosed with your new rep pack, so staff know how to join ATL.
  3. Start communicating. Introduce yourself to your members as their rep. Obtain a membership list and set up an email group. You can download a membership list by logging onto the 'My membership' section of the ATL website.
  4. Meet the head/principal. Identify yourself to your head or principal as the rep and arrange an informal meeting to discuss ways of working together and agreed lines of communication. You can download a template letter from our website.
  5. Find your branch. Get in touch with your local branch secretary. He or she will be a vital source of information and support. You'll find the name, telephone number and email address on your ATL membership card, or you can look them up using My ATL.

Who do I have to tell that I have become the ATL rep?

Firstly, your members via your staff noticeboard and/or a group email that you have set up. You can download a membership list by logging onto the 'My membership' section of the ATL website. 

Secondly, you should inform your head or principal that you are now the ATL rep. You can do this by downloading a template letter from our website, which provides you with formal accreditation from ATL and also advises your employer of your rights to reasonable paid time-off to attend training and to undertake your rep duties.

Does ATL provide training in how to be a rep?

Yes. All new reps should book a place on our one-day induction training as soon as possible. It is specifically designed to orient you in the main duties as a rep and help you get started.

Once you have completed your induction training, we strongly encourage you to complete our three-stage formal workplace reps training course, which will help you be truly effective in your role. It covers things like recruiting and organising your members, assisting members with their issues, and representing their concerns to your head or principal.

Who do I contact if I need help?

Your first point of contact should always be your branch secretary, who is responsible for coordinating ATL members across your local authority or district. Branches organise member and committee meetings two or three times a year to discuss issues of mutual concern across schools and colleges locally, and inform ATL's policy-making process; we recommend you make every effort to attend. Branch meetings an excellent way to meet other reps, who will inevitably be dealing with similar issues to you.

If there is no branch secretary in your area, or if you cannot reach them and you need support urgently (most branch secretaries undertake ATL work on part-time release from their professional duties), then you should contact the ATL London office on 020 7930 6441.

Your rights as a rep

What are my rights as a rep?

The rights of union reps are set out in the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities.

Those rights depend on whether ATL is recognised. By this we mean a formal trade union recognition agreement with the employer, which means ATL can undertake collective bargaining on behalf of that employer's staff. Such bargaining will typically cover (at least): employment terms and conditions such as pay, hours and holidays; discipline and grievance; health and safety; work allocation; and redundancy.

As long as ATL is recognised (if you work in a maintained school in England, we will be - see our FAQ on trade union recognition in the related FAQs, below), you are entitled to:

  • statutory paid time off for training associated with your role, including ATL in-house induction, three-stage workplace reps and specialist union learning rep and health and safety rep training, plus any rep training organised by your branch
  • statutory paid time off for union duties, including meetings with members and management to consult, negotiate or represent on any matters relating to terms and conditions of employment, discipline or grievance, health and safety, allocation of work and redundancy
  • full access to documentation affecting you and your members, such as job descriptions, staffing structures, documents to do with pay and conditions of service, and local authority/employment policies that are in use in your workplace.

Although recognition commits both parties to negotiate in good faith, it does not require agreement, nor does it give the union a veto over every employer proposal.

Even if ATL is not recognised at your school or college, upon request, some employers may be willing to provide ATL reps with some or all of the above, despite the fact that they are not statutory entitlements.

How much paid release am I entitled to from my employer?

The ACAS code of practice does not stipulate a set amount. Instead it – and the law itself – says that paid release should be 'reasonable' and lists the trade union duties for which reps are entitled to receive paid release.

Many of these duties – meetings with your head to discuss school policies, discipline or grievance hearings, meetings to consult with members – typically take place outside timetabled professional duties, so paid release may not be a significant issue.

Accordingly, the vast majority of ATL reps do not receive any significant paid release from their timetabled duties; where reps do it will be to reflect higher membership numbers. So in schools with significant membership, some reps may receive a set period a week to undertake rep work, including preparatory work ahead of formal meetings.

In colleges, similar arrangements for a small number of hours a week are also more common. The need for such arrangements is becoming more pressing in some academies, especially those which do not contribute to local authority pooled facilities and who therefore cannot call on their branch secretary for support.

Both the law and the ACAS code of practice clearly state reps in recognised workplaces are entitled to paid time-off to attend trade union training. Most ATL courses are in one-day blocks, and our induction and three-stage workplace reps training amounts to a total of four days, entirely reasonable to complete with one academic year. The only issue is that you should make sure you give your head or principal as much notice of the training as possible; a half-term's notice is entirely reasonable.

Electing and appointing reps

What is the process for electing or appointing an ATL workplace rep?

The same process applies to all ATL reps in a workplace, whether that be a school or college representative, health and safety representative or learning representative, and is set out in our model branch rules. The process involves three simple steps, summarised below.

Step one:

  • Where there is an existing workplace rep by 31 May, they should inform all members employed at the workplace whether they want to continue for the next academic year, and provide the members with at least seven days' notice to submit alternative nominations for the role. Members may self-nominate.

Or else:

  • Where there is no existing workplace rep, any member in the workplace may, at any time, inform all members employed at the workplace, via workplace that they wish to take on the role for the next academic year, and provide members with at least seven days' notice to submit alternative nominations for the role.

Step two:

  • If only one member is nominated then they are appointed, and should inform ATL's membership department and the members employed at the workplace.

Or else:

  • If more than one member is nominated they should first consider the possibility of undertaking the role jointly, or of sharing out the respective roles of workplace, health and safety and learning representative. 
  • If jointly undertaking the role is not appropriate or feasible then the nominated reps should contact their branch secretary who will convene a properly constituted meeting of members to elect the rep by majority secret ballot. 

Step three

  • There are number of simple tasks that all newly confirmed or appointed reps should undertake, including booking themselves onto the relevant ATL rep induction training.

How do I know who is a member at my workplace?

All current workplace reps can access a list of their members via 'My account' on the ATL website.
Any other paid-up member interested in self-nominating themselves for the role of rep can obtain a list of all other members employed at the workplace (workplace contact details only) by emailing the membership department.

How do I inform ATL that I am a rep?

Simply email the membership team with details of yourself, most importantly your membership number and your workplace

I am retiring as ATL rep at my workplace. What do I need to do?

Inform ATL by emailing the membership department, notifying us what date you retire and (ideally) providing the name of your successor.

Most importantly, to enable your good work to continue, please help identify a successor to take on the role of rep in your workplace.

Communicating and meeting with your members

How can I best keep my members up to date with union issues?

It depends on what the purpose of your communication is. The method you choose will also depend on practical questions like how much time you have, how many members you have and what contact details you have for them, and whether you are all co-located or spread across a split site. The main forms of communication are the staff noticeboard, email, one-to-ones and member meetings. 

How often should I hold member meetings?

A regular schedule of termly meetings is often a good idea, especially if you have a large membership or a split-site membership that is hard to convene at short notice. However, if an issue comes up, don't be afraid to convene a meeting at short notice.

The most important thing is that a meeting is timely and relevant so, in short, they should be held as often as they need to be and never just for the sake of it.

What are my rights when communicating with my members?

Where ATL is recognised reps are legally entitled to certain facilities from their employer in order to communicate with their members. Typically this will include space on a staff noticeboard, access to internal email and space for member meetings. 

In terms of using school and college email systems, the ACAS code states that "employers must respect the confidential and sensitive nature of communications between reps and their members", and that employers "should not normally carry out regular or random monitoring of union emails". However, do inform management first that you intend to use this facility, and take care to respect and maintain the confidentiality of information you are given access to.

Building relationships in your workplace

Should I have regular meetings with management?

Your role as a rep will involve communicating on behalf of ATL members with the school/college management teams in your workplace.

It is important to build good relationships with the management team so that issues can be resolved early and members can have a positive influence on decision-making in the school/college. ATL members are education professionals and have a wealth of experience and expertise to share. Regular meetings help with this.

The first step is to arrange an informal meeting with your school/college manager to discuss ways of working together and agree lines of communication.

If there is already an established timetable for joint union meetings in your school or college, ask to attend those meetings. If there is no regular meeting structure, ATL would suggest a meeting every half term be scheduled into the calendar so there is ongoing dialogue between staff and school/college management.

If management are resistant to this proposal, explain that scheduled meetings can always be cancelled if neither party has business. It can also be worth reminding them that a schedule of meetings is an excellent way of them fulfilling their legal obligation to consult properly with the recognised unions.

My school has reps from other unions too. Should I meet with them?

It is useful to build relationships with reps from other unions in your school/college, especially when dealing with issues that affect all staff. It would be helpful to arrange joint union meetings every half term with your school/college managers.

Always meet with reps from other unions before your meetings with management so you take issues to management collectively. This may not always be possible, but where unions work together it can often be very effective for all members.

Getting others to help you

I'm finding there is too much for me to do on my own as a rep. Can I get others to take on some of the work?

Yes. With more policies and procedures being negotiated at a workplace level we would encourage members to share the role of ATL rep and start building an ATL team in your school or college.

Hold regular meetings and keep an eye out for colleagues who feel strongly about issues in your school or college. These are the members who are more likely to get involved and become part of your ATL team.

You could ask other members to:

  • be the ATL contact in their department or faculty
  • ask new colleagues in their department or faculty to join ATL
  • distribute information and put up posters in the staff room or in their departments and canvass the views of their colleagues
  • help with newsletters or drafting communications to ATL members
  • help organise a room for a meeting
  • help review documents or policies that the school or college might be updating.
  • Play to people's strengths and share tasks with colleagues who have the appropriate skills.

What other rep roles could members take on at my school?

Health and safety reps support members on matters relating to health and safety in the workplace. This covers a range of issues from the safety of the physical environment to staff well-being and work-life balance.

Union learning reps support members with continuing personal and professional development and work closely with school/college members and management to identify the training needs of colleagues, and improve access to quality continuing professional development.

If possible, we would encourage reps to build a team which includes at least one workplace rep, a health and safety rep and a union learning rep.

Running workplace campaigns

What does ATL mean by campaigning at a workplace level?

As a member-led union ATL supports members to campaign around issues that are important to them. We campaign at a national, local and workplace level. At a school or college level, campaigning is about getting together with other ATL members to have a positive influence on conditions within your workplace.

There are many issues affecting members at a workplace level including things like the working environment, contracts, work-life balance, timetabling, restructuring, pay progression, redundancies, CPD opportunities, health and safety, equality and fairness issues, bullying, trade union recognition, mergers and general work practices.

Campaigning is a positive way to raise awareness among colleagues about issues that affect them, involve them in resolving those issues and influencing decisions in your school or college.

How do we identify issues in the workplace to campaign around?

Talk to your members. Find out what members think and how they feel by asking open questions and listening.

Hold regular meetings and give members an opportunity at each meeting to raise issues of concern.

Ask more active members to speak to colleagues in their teams/departments to identify issues affecting staff and gauge the strength of feeling.