Flexibility is the key

16th May 2008 at 01:00
Supply teacher Linda Gray, the new Scottish president of the NASUWT union, tells Henry Hepburn how an often challenging career in teaching has prepared her for the role
Supply teacher Linda Gray, the new Scottish president of the NASUWT union, tells Henry Hepburn how an often challenging career in teaching has prepared her for the role

"I'm not accustomed to sitting in an ivory tower with everything in terms of resources or dealing with children who are straight-forward," says Linda Gray, who has a refreshing willingness to confront issues head on in conversation. Perhaps it's the legacy of a career in teaching that has almost entirely taken place in "fairly poor areas".

Mrs Gray does not tiptoe around the problems that blight classrooms. "No longer can you assume pupils will behave without question," she asserts, looking back at changes in teaching since starting her career at Edinburgh's Moray House in 1972.

This, she stresses, does not apply merely to secondary schools; she knows from painful memory that "P7s can be very intimidating". She once had to take time off sick after failing to get enough support to deal with a particularly difficult P6-7 class of 18, in which 13 children clearly had social, emotional and behavioural needs.

She accepts pragmatically that teachers today "can't change all of the kids and what's happening in society", but insists that all must be confident they will get immediate help from senior management.

Mrs Gray has often had to be flexible in her career. She failed to find a job straight after qualification and trained to be a tax officer, then put her career on hold for 10 years to bring up two daughters. Now she is a supply teacher and "we have to be able to fit in and adapt".

She expects others to show similar flexibility. There needs to be a "more equitable approach" to pay: the set three-year deal could hit teachers hard, with the country bracing itself for high inflation rates and mounting food and fuel prices. "Three years down the line, who knows where we'll be?"

She also warns that a one-size-fits-all approach must not be taken to class size reduction. The knock-on effect could be particularly damaging to schools that have used extra space creatively, for nurseries, Sure Start facilities and specialist services.

Mrs Gray's election marks what is thought to be a first for Scotland's education unions. For a short time, her presidency will overlap with that of Kirsty Devaney at the Educational Institute of Scotland and Ann Ballinger at the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, making it the only time the three roles have been held simultaneously by women.

These could also be historic times for the NASUWT itself. Mrs Gray concedes that it has long been viewed in Scotland as the "smaller, English, militant" union, but energetic recruitment has seen membership swell to a healthy 6,200 from a number that once struggled to get beyond three figures.

That's still some way behind the EIS's 60,000 members, but, she insists, there are advantages to being a smaller union: you're more likely to get straight through to someone on the phone for a start.


1954: Born in Edinburgh

1959-72: Attended James Gillespie's School - then for girls only - for entire school career, apart from three years at Wick North Primary, Caithness

1972-76: Teacher training at Moray House, Edinburgh, including year out working in children's homes and the civil service

1976-77: Trainee tax officer before starting a job at Dumbryden Primary, Edinburgh

1978-80: Teacher at Dean Park Primary, Edinburgh

1980-90: Stayed at home and raised two daughters

1990-92: Supply teacher in West Lothian

1992-94: Teacher at Polkemmet Primary, Whitburn

1994-2006: Teacher at Deans Primary, Livingston

2006-present: Permanent supply in West Lothian, currently based at Livingston's Letham Primary.

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