Mick's still standing after a tough week

6th May 2005 at 01:00
As the band belted out Elton John's "I'm still standing", Mick Brookes could be seen gyrating across the conference platform.

It was a moment of release after dinner for the NAHT's next general secretary after a tense weekend. Feelings are still raw following the Nottinghamshire junior head's overwhelming victory over David Hawker, the association's official leadership candidate, last month.

With the pair taking opposing positions over withdrawal from the workforce deal, the election had highlighted the split in the association over the issue. Though both sides tried to present a united front in Telford, tensions were never far from the surface.

Mr Brookes acknowledged as much when he addressed delegates in a private session at the start of the conference: "To those of you who would like to have seen another David standing here this morning - I simply ask for your forbearance.

"I am fully aware of the huge responsibility that has been placed on my shoulders. I ask for your wholehearted support."

That is something he may receive eventually, but some of his opponents are still muttering about their doubts over his ability to do the job.

The official endorsement he received from the association was less than overwhelming, with his name not mentioned during press briefings.

David Hart briefly wished him luck. But the general secretary, who will depart in August, spent more time lamenting the difficult year the NAHT council - overturned on both workload and the leadership - had had.

It was of course Mr Hart's moment in the sun and delegates paid tribute to his success in raising the association's profile, with an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of his 28th and final conference speech.

But their decision to dramatically harden their stance on the workforce agreement was not one Mr Hart, an advocate of partnership, would have counselled.

A desire to avoid confrontational scenes meant his supporters kept any reservations over the unanimous call for teacher-for-teacher PPA cover to themselves.

Asked why, having fought to keep their association in the agreement, they had given their implicit support to a position almost in line with the anti-agreement National Union of Teachers, one senior figure replied: "Weariness."

But as the establishment licked its wounds, grassroots members celebrated.

"What you see here is a union in transition," said one. "We are just beginning to realise how much power we have."

Mr Brookes, their champion, calls them the "silent majority". But he knows he must unite the NAHT to succeed and is understood to be considering appointing a deputy to help him do just that.

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