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President pleased at vote on former colleagues

Lesley Auger, president of the National Union of Teachers, is all in favour of teaching assistants - she used to be one herself.

But that does not mean that she favours the workload deal which enables teaching assistants to take classes instead of teachers. She won warm applause from the 1,000 delegates assembled in Harrogate by telling them:

"I find it impossible to accept that standards of teaching and learning will remain consistently high under the Government's proposals."

Instead, she would encourage those assistants who want to take on more responsibility to follow her lead and train to become a fully-qualified teacher.

Mrs Auger, 54, is an 11-plus failure, who left school without a single O-level. She trained as a nursery nurse and then became a teaching assistant for five years before training as a teacher.

She said: "I was determined not to be put down because of failing the 11-plus. The best thing about being a teaching assistant was being trusted by teacher colleagues to undertake tasks, such as working with small groups. I knew that I would be capable of being a teacher. What I needed was the training." she said.

This confidence led her to gain qualifications and then a three year BEd at Didsbury college of education which she completed in 1977. She is now a special needs co-ordinator at Mesne Lea school, Salford.

Mrs Auger, who had the unenviable task of dealing with points of order and outbreaks of bad behaviour as chair of the conference, comes across as a no-nonsense character, no doubt partly as a result of being the eldest daughter of eight children growing up in Rochdale in the 1950s and 1960s.

She admitted to some irritation with delegates who were impatient at the pace of proceedings, at one point inviting them to "come up here and see if you can do any better".

But she made no secret of her delight when delegates voted unanimously to ballot for a boycott of national tests saying: "That's a big yes."

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