Headteachers: Two union bosses quit in unison

18th September 2009 at 01:00
The general secretaries of Britain's two headteacher associations announce their simultaneous step down next summer

Original paper headline: Two union bosses quit in unison

A search has been launched for new leaders of the country's two headteacher unions following decisions by both general secretaries to step down.

Dr John Dunford of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and Mick Brookes of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which have a combined membership of more than 42,000, will leave their positions at the end of next August.

Dr Dunford, the former head of Durham Johnston School, will have been in charge of ASCL for 11 years by the time he leaves the job, which he describes as "the best in education".

Media-savvy and a consummate networker, Dr Dunford has become a well- respected insider who is courted by the Government in an attempt to get his members on-side.

Mr Brookes, who took over his role in controversial circumstances in 2005, has adopted a more openly confrontational approach, culminating in his union's decision to seek a boycott of next year's key stage 2 Sats with teaching union the NUT.

Both unions are members of the social partnership with the Government, which means their leaders are consulted on policy affecting teachers' working conditions.

Mr Brookes took the NAHT out of the partnership following his election, claiming it needed to be independent, but performed a U-turn a year later.

The difficult early stages of his tenure followed a bitterly fought campaign for his election.

The NAHT hierarchy had favoured a different candidate, David Hawker, then Brighton Council's head of children's services, to succeed lawyer David Hart, the outgoing general secretary who had been in the job for 27 years.

Dissent had grown among the union's primary-school members, who were unhappy with the workload agreement, leading to Mr Brookes, a former primary head in Nottingham, launching his challenge, which went to ballot.

Mr Brookes admits that the early days were not easy. He recalls being told by one colleague that he had a "real problem". He was told: "One lot wants you to fall on your face and the other lot think you are going to change the world.

"It was tough coming in, but people respected the democratic process we had," said Mr Brookes. "I have had a lot of support from people who did not necessarily think I was the best choice."

But at the risk of re-opening old wounds, Mr Brookes insists that it will be a benefit for his replacement to come from the classroom.

"Fresh experience straight from school and the classroom is something that tends to be missing in the education arena," he said. "For many of us, and I include myself now, that experience is not recent or relevant.

"I would not want to influence the outcome of our search, but I sincerely hope that colleagues will look very closely at this."

Dr Dunford describes his job as "immensely satisfying" and counts his association's role in the Government's decision to scrap key stage 3 tests as a recent success.

"So much of government education policy relates to the secondary sector," he said. "You are in the eye of the policy storm and have the opportunity to influence the direction of that policy."

But despite the endless rounds of meetings and phone calls from journalists, Dr Dunford says that one of the biggest differences in leading a union is that people now say thank you.

"After 16 years as a headteacher, no one said thank you for anything," he said. "It is so rewarding to work on behalf of school leaders and be told they appreciate what I do."

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