Daunted, but ready to lead

11th April 2003 at 01:00
A narrow poll victory means Mary Bousted will be quitting academia for the top job at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. William Stewart reports

MARY Bousted admits she is feeling rather daunted. Not surprising for a woman with no previous senior experience of industrial relations who this week was elected general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Britain's 13th biggest trade union.

Because of union's no-canvassing rule, she had not previously entered its headquarters. She had met no staff or members apart from the seven-member executive panel that recommended her to the electorate. Now she faced her first interview without, she made clear, any media training.

Dr Bousted, head of Kingston University's school of education in Surrey, admitted it would be "daft" to think her lack of experience would not be an issue, but she is confident she can do a good job.

"I am a hard worker and a fast learner," she said. "I have already made one big move from schools into higher education and now, at the age of 43, I am making another one into the world of teacher organisations."

As an English teacher in Harrow comprehensives during the 1980s, she was a National Union of Teachers school rep and took part in the teacher strikes of the era.

Today, although she will not disclose which party she supports, the new leader of the least militant of the big three teacher unions describes her personal politics as moderate.

Brought up in Bolton where she attended a girls' grammar school, Dr Bousted lives in Surrey with her husband Donald, a composer, and a 12-year-old daughter.

She said she was attracted to the ATL job because of the union's strong policy base and because it was an opportunity to make teachers' working lives better.

She beat Hank Roberts, a high-profile campaigner for teaching-union unity, by only the slimmest of margins in this week's election. But she does not believe there is any huge move towards professional unity among members, although she thinks it is an issue they will wish to explore in the future.

Paraphrasing her predecessor, Peter Smith's, "toothpaste out of the tube" quote on unity, she said: "It may be out of the tube but it is not spreading."

Her deputy, Gerald Imison, was also her rival in the leadership contest. He came a disappointing third and it will be interesting to see how the relationship works out.

In her first interview, she remained coy on policy. On performance-related pay, Dr Bousted says it is clear that the Government is committed to an extension of the scheme. But asked if she opposed it, she would only say:

"It is an issue I would want to explore further with the executive and members."

On the workload agreement she says she is not against unaccompanied assistants taking lessons, but says the devil is in the detail.

And while she is concerned that specialist schools could become a back door route for selection, Dr Bousted is cagey when asked about her views on grammars.

She eventually answered: "The ATL has members who work in a wide variety of schools and I am happy to respond to their interests."

Dr Bousted will meet many of them at next week's conference in Blackpool, but will not take up her new post for around three months. In the meantime it is back to the grindstone at Kingston for the self-confessed driven professional.

And how did she celebrate her victory? "I had a glass of wine and then went back to work," she said.

ELECTION RESULT

Mary Bousted 6,431

Hank Roberts 6,328

Gerald Imison 3,091

Turn out: 14.1 per cent of 112,000 possible voters.

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