As the nation's attention was focused on the Pope's funeral last Friday, very few people noticed the puffs of white smoke rising from the National Association of Head Teachers' headquarters in Haywards Heath. The NAHT had chosen its new leader, a fortnight or so ahead of the cardinals.
The election of Mick Brookes went almost unrecorded by the media, too. But the elevation of a man dismissed as "just a provincial primary head" by some hubristic members of the NAHT hierarchy represents a "9" on the Richter scale of teacher-union politics. Mick Brookes must feel completely vindicated. Although he did not even make the original short list he ultimately trounced the leadership's candidate, David Hawker, Brighton's head of children's services. Brookes had suggested that the NAHT appointments committee demeaned the profession by choosing an "outsider".
Whatever the merits of Mr Hawker, one can see his point. If a union representing 40,000 heads and deputies cannot produce a national leader, the profession must be in a sorrier state than anyone thought.
But in fact recent events reveal more about the NAHT leadership than they do about headteachers. David Hart has been a distinguished general secretary, but he and his colleagues have seriously misjudged the mood of the thousands of NAHT members who say they cannot afford the 10 per cent cut in teachers' classroom time scheduled for September. Last month the membership rejected their advice and voted to pull out of the workforce agreement. Now NAHT leaders have lost more face by backing the "wrong" candidate.
The national president, Rona Tutt, who this week sounded as disapproving as her surname, admitted she was disappointed by Mick Brookes's win but said she would work with him. Brookes also recognises the need for unity because he will take over in September, just as the controversy over planning, preparation and assessment time reaches the boil. A clash with the Government seems likely and some heads may face legal action if they defy the working-time regulations. A "mellow" autumn? Nobody should expect one this year.