THE leader of Britain's biggest teachers' union is embroiled in a row over the timing of an election to appoint his successor.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, claims that attempts to bring forward the poll, originally planned for June, were being plotted to boost the chances of his deputy, Steve Sinnott.
He said he was angry and hurt that a political faction should attempt to replace him five months earlier than he had expected.
NUT national executive committee members were due to meet yesterday to decide whether or not to back a plan to hold the election in January as proposed by the moderate "broad left" grouping.
The faction, which is backing Mr Sinnott, holds a narrow majority on the executive. But it may have to rely on left-wing members to get its proposal through.
John Illingworth, the Nottingham-based headteacher and NUT executive member who is the left's favoured candidate said there were also divisions over the timing among his supporters and the vote could be very close.
Mr McAvoy, who is 65 in January, has been general secretary since 1989. He said that if the election were brought forward he would consider standing again so that he could see out his five-year term.
An early election is believed to disadvantage Mr McAvoy's preferred successor, John Bangs, the union's head of education. It is thought he needs more time to build up support as he does not have the backing of a political faction within the NUT.
Mr Illingworth said: "I don't think the timing of the election makes a huge difference to me."
The plotting charges were denied by Jerry Glazier, Mr Sinnott's campaign manager and a leading member of the broad left, who said the change in timing would have a neutral impact on the election.
Mr Bangs said it seemed "extraordinary" that the same people who gave Mr McAvoy a standing ovation last Easter should now seek to end his reign prematurely.
The row comes as the leadership campaign begins in earnest. All three candidates have begun to collect early nominations from branches and are setting up campaign websites.
Mr Bangs' site is at www.johnbangs.com and Mr Illingworth's is at www.electjohnillingworth.org. Mr Sinnott's is still under construction.