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Firebrand who exudes calm

"I think the teachers who have heard me speak, in the meetings around the country I have addressed, are often surprised to agree with a lot of what I say," said Carole Regan, the incoming president of the National Union of Teachers.

Perhaps they were surprised to see a calm, small blonde woman rather than the glinty-eyed, ranting firebrand they were expecting. For Ms Regan, together with her husband Bernard, has long been a member of the group characterised as the "NUT's hard Left".

It could be said she is not her general secretary's first choice for the chains of office. Ms Regan pointedly stayed rooted to her seat at last year's conference while others on the platform rose to applaud Doug McAvoy's speech denouncing left-wing activists in the union. While her own organisation, the Socialist Teachers' Alliance, condemned the delegates who jostled David Blunkett at the Blackpool conference, it also criticised Mr McAvoy for exploiting the incident for political ends.

She says she was elected as president on a radical agenda and intends to follow that through.

"But, I will not be using my position to follow a particular political line. I will be there to represent all members of the union - and some people may be disappointed," she said.

Ms Regan has allies. The Left has strengthened its position on the national executive and with the ousting of Malcolm Horne (the Left's favourite whipping boy) husband Bernard will be one of the longest-standing members. Her vice-president Christine Blower shares her political views. "At least I'll have someone to second my motions," she said.

The union's leadership will not have her support on their one-member-one-vote proposals which will become the main focus of debate on internal reforms this weekend. The main mission of her presidency will be the fight against the introduction of selection and against the attack on the orthodoxy of mixed ability teaching. Ms Regan failed her 11-plus and, at the age of 15, became a secretary earning Pounds 5 a week. She later moved to London to a job in banking and became an active trade unionist.

After gaining the entry qualifications at night school, Ms Regan trained to become a teacher at Sidney Webb college, London. She joined the Central Foundation Girls School in 1976 and has been there since, becoming head of humanities in 1993 and co-ordinator for GNVQs two years later.

She soon became active in the NUT and challenged Doug McAvoy for the general secretaryship as "a political statement" when he was first appointed.

She cut her teeth with the Inner London Teachers' Association and has risen in prominence due to her contributions, from the floor, at annual conference. Pat Hawkes, a former president, recalls working with Carole on some of the NUT's earliest research on equal opportunities within the profession. She said: "Despite having deep political differences with Carole we worked well together and produced some good work. I think it will be interesting for her to see just how difficult chairing the conference can be and I'm sure she will be fair and do a good job."

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