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Hankering after unity;Interview;Hank Roberts

Hank Roberts dreams of bringing three unions together. Frances Rafferty talks to him.

WITH his bleached cropped hair, pop-star shades and cowboy boots Hank Roberts is not instantly recognisable as the new face of the teaching profession.

Mr Roberts is the main mover in Professional Unity 2000, a pressure group campaigning for the predominantly classroom teacher unions to merge.

With the leadership of both the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and NASUWT up for grabs this year, his supporters are suggesting he stand for both on a unity ticket.

Mr Roberts has forked out pound;300 for membership of the National Union of Teachers, NASUWT and the ATL.

In Brent, north London, he is the branch secretary of the NUT and ATL and shares an office with the local NASUWT secretary.

The Easter conferences may show the three unions to have very different styles, but Mr Roberts believes they are reconcilable.

"There are almost half a million teachers who dress from hippy style to city slicker, and the NUT may have more than its share of the former," he says.

"The NASUWT may have more beards and the ATL more cardigans but you can't judge a teacher or an intellect by the clothes they wear. On the main education issues there is 95 per cent agreement across the unions.

"The decision of the ATL to ballot to join the Trades Union Congress is a deeply significant step towards making a merger possible. But it will have to be a grassroots movement. Surveys show support for having one teacher union, but the leaderships and others with vested interests are the main block."

Traditionally the NUT has a motion at its annual conference calling for professional unity that is passed but nothing is ever done. The NASUWT has a similar motion, but always votes against.

Hank is a nickname won at The Gordon, a military boarding school, because his spectacles were supposed to make him look like Hank Marvin of the Shadows. But it will take more than nifty footwork to get Doug, Nigel and Peter singing from the same songsheet.

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