Deputy rides into union fray

18th November 2005 at 00:00
Britain's largest union for headteachers now believes it has the winning team to regain the hearts and minds of its membership.

In a move which it hopes will bring all its members on board after a turbulent year, the NationalAssociation of Head Teachers has appointed a former secondary teacher and government adviser, Carole Whitty, as its new deputy general secretary.

When David Hart retired this year after 27 years as the union's media-savvy general secretary, the organisation had consistently punched above its weight, but his legacy was of a largely one-man- band, with no heir apparent.

The 29,000-member association turned to headhunters to find a new leader.

David Hawker, Brighton council's head of children's services, was the union council's choice. But with dissent fermenting in the primary ranks over the workload agreement, Mick Brookes, 51, a motor-cycling primary head and former NAHT president, launched a challenge.

It went to a ballot and he won. The primary putsch left the union divided.

As one insider said: "It has always been a coalition rather than a union."

Mr Brookes's lukewarm reception was illustrated by a conference in Oxford, where barely half the secondary heads stayed to hear him warn of "signs of some toxicity in our organisation exemplified by anger and absence".

Secondary members complained the association was losing its influence with the Government. Many were critical of the NAHT's decision, in defiance of the leadership, to withdraw from the workforce agreement earlier this year.

In the light of these concerns, the appointment of Mrs Whitty as deputy general secretary appears highly shrewd.

The 57-year-old has spent 35 years working in secondary education, including posts as head of Carisbrooke high on the Isle of Wight and Eggbuckland community college in Plymouth.

She also has a hotline to the Government. For the past two-and-a-half years Mrs Whitty has worked for the Department for Education and Skills, first in its schools directorate and then as a children's services improvement adviser.

Mrs Whitty has to be tactful, as she does not start at the NAHT until January 1. But will she find it hard to criticise her former DfES colleagues?

"I don't think criticise is the right word - unless it is in the literary sense of critiquing, because we should be having an ongoing constructive dialogue," she said. "I've not felt like I've changed sides since working for the DfES."

Mrs Whitty became an English and drama teacher after enjoying school plays as a pupil at St Bernard's high in Westcliffe-on-Sea, where she was a contemporary of the actress Helen Mirren.

She insists that she is "not a techie", then admits she travels nowhere without her Tablet PC. She was one of the first UK heads to introduce electronic whiteboards, and was invited to Microsoft's world summit in Seattle earlier this year.

Mrs Whitty said she wants the union to put its decision on the workforce agreement in the past and focus on future matters such as implementation of the Every Child Matters agenda, a subject on which she is evangelical.

Mr Brookes is clearly relieved about the appointment. "Carole has a precision of thinking and a panoptic vision of the whole education arena which will be extremely helpful to us," he said.

Mrs Whitty's eagerness to introduce technology and other innovations at Eggbuckland school led some older staff to resign. But her vice-principal, John Curtis-Rouse, said she was "a people person with an intense vision and a wicked sense of humour".

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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