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Driving home a gender message

As this Easter's round of conferences gets under way, Frances Rafferty reports from the passionate middle ground.

Kay Driver, who is to take over the reins at the Professional Association of Teachers, will be the only woman general secretary of a teachers' union.

As the former deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association she is leaving a male-dominated world for a union where women outnumber the men by five to one. She will also represent the almost exclusively female membership of the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses.

Perhaps one of her jobs will be to appoint an officer for equal opportunities - PAT does not have one.

She said: "I don't want to frighten the men. Equal opportunities means making sure that all talented people in the profession are given the support and opportunity to do well.

"I have spent 10 years working at SHA where 86 per cent of members were men and 14 per cent women. In my job I tried to increase the skills and confidence of women.

"Now I will be in a position of being able to promote women classroom teachers who should be given the chance to offer their expertise. The education service is losing out if it doesn't promote able women."

Mrs Driver is intending to set up a network of women across the education system.

Paradoxically it is the most traditional of the unions which has voted for a women leader. Its members are characterised by their conservatism: PAT's claim to fame is being the "no strike union".

One of Mrs Driver's challenges will be to boost the membership of the 32,000-strong association.

She said: "I aim to increase the profile of the union. I am sure its ethos, which puts the child first, will be attractive to many other teachers."

Mrs Driver says the union is well placed to play a decisive role in the Government's discussion on special needs education and early years services.

She said that with ministers making noises about the need to change teachers' contracts and the prospect of education action zones, the role of teachers' unions is even more vital.

Mrs Driver is divorced with two grown up-children. Her son is working in industry and her daughter studying at university. She has worked as teacher and lecturer and local authority adviser.

Since the age of two, when she had her own little black pony, she has enjoyed riding. "It totally requires all your attention and is a wonderful way to keep fit," she said.

David Jones, who has been acting general secretary since the sudden departure of John Andrews, said: "We are delighted to have Kay as leader and I'm sure she will bring a new impetus to the union and the work needed within and without to increase its influence and attract new members."

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