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New leader aims to shake off 'eccentric' tag

Philip Parkin, general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, hopes this year's annual conference will not live up to its reputation for eccentricity.

It will be his first time as leader at the conference of the UK's smallest teacher union (33,645 members).

Mr Parkin, who was elected last year, said his association took the charges of eccentricity in good humour, but hoped that motions this year would prove it had a more serious side.

Mr Parkin, 55, said: "It has become a bit of a joke here but it is unfortunate to be labelled in this way. I don't think there's anything eccentric on this year's agenda."

The PAT has hit the headlines in the past for motions including the introduction of dogs as classroom assistants and criticising Kylie Minogue for baring too much flesh.

Mr Parkin, former deputy head of Old Clee primary in Grimsby, said he was relaxed about hosting his first conference but anxious to make sure his opening speech was good.

The speech will be made up of three parts: looking at the quality of childhood today, including the pressures on and anxieties of young people; a legal issue for teachers; and working conditions for support staff.

He said: "I'm concerned about getting the right content and not putting my foot in it, although I'm not frightened of being controversial."

The conference takes place in Oxford next week from Monday to Thursday.

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