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Cut out eccentric label

New leader of the Professional Association of Teachers seeks a better image for his union. Adi Bloom reports

There will be no more calls from Britain's smallest teaching union for dogs as classroom assistants or attacks on pop princesses for flashing too much flesh if its new general secretary gets his way.

For Philip Parkin has said he wants to shake off the Professional Association of Teachers' reputation for eccentricity.

The union, which has fewer than 35,000 members, has hit the headlines for conference motions that include the introduction of dogs as classroom assistants and an attack on Kylie Minogue for flashing too much flesh.

But Mr Parkin, who was this month named general secretary after an unopposed election, claims that such motions are not representative.

"Sections of the media have focused on the rather more eccentric aspects of our conference motions," he said. "So we have been labelled as eccentric.

But the label diminishes the other work we are doing. If you're labelled as an eccentric organisation, you will only recruit eccentric members. It gets to be a bit wearing."

Unlike his predecessor, Jean Gemmell, who will retire in January, Mr Parkin does not believe that all publicity is good publicity.

Unfortunately, he added, the agenda of the annual conference is beyond his control: "I won't be interfering with the motions committee. But clearly if they ask for advice, I'll give it to them."

The 54-year-old, who has two adult sons, will leave a job as deputy head of Old Clee junior school, in Grimsby, to take up his new post. He was a member of the National Union of Teachers but defected to PAT because of its pledge never to take industrial action. He has served as regional secretary and council member, as well as chair of the union's professional services committee.

Mr Parkin hopes that his recent experience at the chalkface will help him to represent the needs of his members.

"I want to make the Government aware of the impact its proposed changes will have on schools," he said. "For example, although I support the national workload agreement, I'm not convinced that teachers are working any less.

"Teachers have an amazing capacity, when they give up one task, to find another to take its place."

He also hopes to campaign for a national pay and career structure for his classroom assistant members, and to establish equality of pay for further education lecturers. And he is a vocal advocate of anonymity for teachers accused of assaulting pupils. "Frequently, teachers' names appear in local papers, and then they are found to be innocent," said Mr Parkin. "People's careers and reputations are ruined by a lack of anonymity."

But his key priority is to improve the profile of the union: "I'm under no illusions that we are going to be as large as the other teacher associations. But I would like to see us in an even stronger position, in terms of membership and influence in the educational world. We have a lot to contribute. We are a mainstream trade union."


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