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A'guinea-pig' set for 15 minutes of fame

David Budge reports on a forthcoming Court of Appeal hearing whose result could affect thousands.

Some people relish their "15 minutes of fame". But Mary Biggs is not among them. "I am a guinea-pig, rather than a person who chooses to be in the forefront," she said, while guardedly answering questions about the National Union of Teachers' test case that may yet earn her an uncomfortable and unimagined amount of publicity.

There appears to be no turning back now, however. She knows that if she wins her case, many other women stand to benefit. Moreover, Mrs Biggs still has a strong sense of the injustice that she suffered 19 years ago when forced to relinquish her part-time science-teaching job at Whitstone secondary in Somerset because she would not work full-time.

Mrs Biggs, 56, who now lives near Yeovil, started her teaching career in Slough in 1960 after leaving the City of Worcester Training College. But after three years she gave up teaching to start a family, and did not return to the classroom until the mid-Seventies.

"At first, I got a one-term part-time job at Whitstone," she explained. "Later I worked in a primary school for two terms, but then the Whitstone science department asked me to go back and work with them for 14 hours a week.

"It was a wonderful job that I thoroughly enjoyed, but after about a term I was called into the head's office. He just said that if I didn't want to work full-time from the beginning of the next academic year they wouldn't require my services any more. Everybody said, and it was true at the time, that there was nothing I could do about it."

Armed with a testimonial from the head to her teaching skills, Mrs Biggs contacted the county education office but was told that there was no work available except home tuition. She then had to wait two years for her first pupil.

"I have enjoyed home tutoring very much and sometimes do perhaps 15 hours a week. But there's no doubt that I have lost out financially through having to leave Whitstone. That's obviously part of the reason I am pursuing this case, but it's more than that. It should be admitted that what was done to me and many other women was not morally right."

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