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A star player in high heels

THE incoming president has for so long been identified with the Educational Institute of Scotland's Glasgow association that it may come as a surprise to many to learn she is not a Glaswegian.

Though Alana Ross supports the "Maryhill Magyars", aka Partick Thistle FC, aka "the Jags", it was not always thus. She was once a season ticket holder at Fir Park, home of "the Steelmen", aka Motherwell FC. A native of there, she went to Knowetop primary and Dalziel High before going to Jordanhill College to train as a primary teacher.

Her recent career can truly be said to have mirrored the Jags more than the Steelmen in that she has been promoted during the past two seasons from the lower divisions to Premier League status. She is the sixth Glasgow "radical" to preside over the EIS in 18 years - one notable predecessor being husband Willie Hart, surely a first.

Alana Ross began teaching in 1969 in Barlanark primary in Glasgow, marking the beginning of a career-long association with the city and its teacher politics. Few EIS ballot papers in Glasgow during the past three decades have not featured her name.

She has always attracted and represented the classroom teacher since her earliest union involvement and earned the ultimate compliment from management in the shape of Ken Corsar, Glasgow's outgoing education director, of being "a dedicated class teacher".

In the 1970s, she was active in Rank and File, the leftist EIS pressure group and during the Houghton campaign of the mid-1970s marched under the banner of the West of Scotland Action Group (WOSTAG). During the eighties she was a leading member of Campaign for a Fighting Union (CAFFU); if there was a leftist pressure group on the go, she was part of it. Unlike some members of such groupings, her chief motivation was pay and conditions - world revolution would have to take its place behind the battle to win a single salary scale for primary and secondary teachers. She was motivated by the dominance of (predominantly male) headteachers in the EIS and by what she saw as the injustice of the salary arrangements.

The clickety-click of the Ross high heels is a familiar sound at annual conferences and she has risen to be one of those rare influential figures whose interventions in a debate can swing the vote. Almost 20 years after achieving her salary objective, she can still talk with passion about her motivation. "There were lots of primary teachers who could have gone to university, but thought they would be better teachers for doing the three-year course. Plus, secondary teachers being paid more gave the impression that their job was harder and more important."

Her transformation from Glasgow activist to the higher echelons and her support for some policies opposed by former allies inevitably led to rifts, though they were more ideological than personal.

Asked if she had regrets about any of the stances she had taken in recent years, she paused: "Well, maybe one. I'm sorry we didn't put in a greater effort when 5-14 came in. We underestimated the workload required to deliver it."

She will have nothing to do with the suggestion that an ageing profession will lead to a fall-off in activism: "I am not as pessimistic as some. We will still keep the union going and in Glasgow we have a cadre of young people on the committee of management."

It is unlikely that presidential dignity will permit her erstwhile party piece, delivering a version of the Paul Anka song "Diana" while standing on a table or chair. Then again the Jags winning promotion to the Premier League proves that anything is possible.

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