Miner's daughter at coalface of union

8th May 2009 at 01:00
Ann Ballinger elected as general secretary of Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association

Ann Ballinger's election this week as general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association bolsters the ranks of what one activist described as the "monstrous regiment" of women leading the UK's teaching unions.

Ronnie Smith, head of the Educational Institute of Scotland, is now the sole male general secretary among TUC or STUC-affiliated teaching unions. The fact that the NASUWT, National Union of Teachers, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and Irish National Teachers' Organisation are all now led by women reflects the female dominance of the profession.

Mrs Ballinger has always been a strong campaigner for women's rights, so will be delighted at the trend. The divorced mother-of-three has spent the past two years as president of the SSTA, keeping her toe in the water by working one day a week at Bishopbriggs Academy in East Dunbartonshire, where she teaches history and religious education.

She beat the only other contender for the post, George Sturrock, depute head of Menzieshill Academy in Dundee, by around 250 votes. Mr Sturrock comes from the Tayside stronghold of SSTA membership - a former general secretary, Alex Stanley, built up something of an SSTA enclave in that area. The sudden death of Mr Sturrock's wife Julie, a former Labour leader of Dundee City Council, during the campaign period was a huge personal blow.

Mrs Ballinger is likely to have commanded support from the west of Scotland wing of the association, although she originated from Tranent in East Lothian. She is a late entrant to the profession, coming to teaching in her early 30s after completing an Open University degree.

An unpromoted teacher, Mrs Ballinger is very much a supporter of the classroom practitioner. Her upbringing as a miner's daughter explains her left-of-centre politics.

An issue close to her heart is the current restructuring of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. With moves to reduce its overall membership, she is anxious to ensure that teachers before professional standards or disciplinary committees continue to be judged by their elected peers rather than appointees of the registrar.

The association also faces a challenge in terms of membership. Both the EIS and the Scottish section of the NASUWT have seen increases, while the SSTA's numbers this year were down by nearly 300. Although not a hugely significant drop, it may well reflect the demographic trends in secondary schools - ageing teachers and lower staffing levels. The SSTA's current membership is given in STUC returns as 7,551; the NASUWT's Scottish numbers are up significantly to 6,800.

She predicts that workload issues associated with the implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence will dominate the next year. "If there is no money to support it, I would rather see it delayed and implemented properly. If it is not implemented properly, it is not going to work. I would rather work with the Government to find solutions - I am not looking for confrontation - but not at the expense of the sanity of our members."

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