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And so to the Easter teacher union conferences, where the excitement was palpable.

Supply teacher Sandra Lanigan (right) was so enthralled by speeches at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference, she almost dropped a stitch. For her, the passionate conference sessions were an ideal backdrop to her task of turning out jumpers for 10 children visiting her school from Ukraine.

At the NASUWT's conference in Belfast, the union's president, John Mayes, enjoyed a less bizarre visit than his previous trip to the city.

Mr Mayes, who has spent his teaching career in Merseyside, had a beard when he last came to Northern Ireland for a union meeting three years ago.

Coupled with his glasses, it made him look uncannily like the leader of Sinn Feinn.

Only minutes after stepping off the plane, he and his colleagues found themselves pursued by a French journalist who insisted that he be granted an interview with Gerry Adams.

Belfast natives were also confused. One woman nearly dropped her shopping when she bumped into Mr Mayes in the street.

This time, he had shaved off his beard and was wearing contact lenses.

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