You'll Miss Us If We Perish, Warn Subject Associations: News

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Loss of funds and lack of support leave them fighting for survival.

They see themselves as the Big Society in action - teachers working together to help each other improve standards.

Such subject associations should be enjoying their day in the sun. They are in tune with the government's big idea and, with the bonfire of education quangos and local authority budgets stretched to the limit, there is a huge gap in teacher training and support for them to fill.

But the associations are facing one of the bleakest periods in their long history. Staff numbers are being slashed by up to 60 per cent, income is falling by as much as 90 per cent and membership is down. Some are warning that their very existence is under threat.

John Steers, chair of trustees at the Council for Subject Associations (CfSA), which represents 32 of the organisations, warned that all were facing problems. "For the majority, the current situation is not sustainable beyond the short term," he said.

The root cause is spending cuts. Subject associations may be needed more than ever as the increasing number of academies erodes the capacity of local authorities to support teachers, but the public sector squeeze has hit them from two directions.

Contracts they once had with now-defunct quangos such as the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency and Becta are gone. So, too, are even more valuable grants from central government to help train teachers.

Meanwhile, cuts in school training budgets mean many teachers can no longer attend the courses or access the services that subject associations offer.

A survey carried out by the CfSA last year found that the vast majority of associations were struggling. One feared members would "not renew, given job insecurity", another reported a "drastic reduction" in income and a third association warned of its membership falling by a third and said that in a "couple of years" it "probably won't exist in the form it does now".

The Labour government made an effort to give a bigger role to subject associations from 2003 and, in 2007, set up the CfSA to improve their standing. The coalition's 2010 schools white paper also talked about the need for subject associations to "bring together teachers".

But Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE), believes that, while the government is happy to invite subject associations to contribute, it is not doing enough to help them. …