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Rivals in race for top job at union

Welsh-medium teachers' association UCAC is looking for a leader after the short-lived reign of its previous general secretary. Nicola Porter reports

A two-horse race for the pound;35,000-plus-a-year post of general secretary of UCAC, the Welsh-medium teachers' union, was officially launched yesterday.

Ballot papers are being sent to the union's 3,948 members, along with statements from the contenders on why they should be elected to the top job.

The winner will be the third person to lead UCAC in the past two years.

Former general secretary Moelwen Gwyndaf quit in June for "personal reasons", 18 months after taking over from Edwyn Williams.

Acting general secretary Gruff Hughes, 57, from Ruthin, Denbighshire, is basing his manifesto on "regaining stability" at a time when teachers' jobs are under threat.

His southern rival, 47-year-old maths and IT teacher Richard Morse, is critical of the Westminster government for threatening teachers' right to retire at 60 and going to war with Iraq.

The candidates have one thing in common apart from wanting to raise the union's profile. Neither learned to speak Welsh until they were adults.

Ballot papers must be returned by September 23 .

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

* Richard Morse was given his first lessons in "broken" Welsh by a Cockney pensioner called Fred, a steward at the London Welsh club.

The young teacher felt that as a schoolboy growing up in 1960s Wales he had never had a chance to learn his own language. The 47-year-old chemistry graduate says: "If it hadn't been for Fred, I would never have come back to Wales and become a Welsh speaker."

Mr Morse teaches maths and IT at Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Pontypool, south Wales. A member of UCAC's national council, he has been secretary of the union's Gwent branch since 1993.

The self-confessed underdog in the race for general secretary said: "I have a lot of experience to offer UCAC and its members."

He is opposed to attempts by the Westminster government to raise teachers'

retirement age to 65, and favours stress management for the teaching profession. His solution is to have better funding for schools and well-earned pensions before 65.

He says: "The government has said that there will not be enough money to pay pensions until teachers are 65. But at the same time it's prepared to spend pound;4 billion going to war with Iraq - this is immoral."

* Former primary head Gruff Hughes has been with UCAC since leaving Ysgol Llanfair in the Vale of Clwyd seven years ago. His manifesto calls for stability amid mounting concern for members' jobs.

Teachers' pensions and the workload agreement may be controversial, but the introduction of teaching and learning responsibility points - the replacement for management allowances - will be colossal, he predicts.

"This is a period of great instability for education. Jobs are under threat and schools will lose staff," he adds.

Like his rival in the race for general secretary, Mr Hughes was a latecomer to Welsh. Although from a Welsh-speaking family, the language of heaven was hardly spoken in the home he shared with his strict chapel-going parents in Llangollen. As a student at Bangor Normal College, he banned friends and visitors from talking English to aid his fluency.

Taking up a post with UCAC was a refreshing change after working in the classroom.

He says: "I didn't want to retire at 50. I certainly didn't want to join the ranks of Her Majesty's Inspectors, so I froze my pension, took a pay drop, and joined UCAC's ranks."

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