Obituary

11th July 2008 at 01:00
Sir Peter Main, former chairman of the pharmaceutical company Boots and best known in Scottish education circles for leading the Main Inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions in the 1980s, has died, aged 83
Sir Peter Main, former chairman of the pharmaceutical company Boots and best known in Scottish education circles for leading the Main Inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions in the 1980s, has died, aged 83.

Peter Tester Main was born in Aberdeen in 1925 and educated at Robert Gordon's College before going to Aberdeen University to study medicine. He did his National Service as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, later serving with the Field Ambulance Service during the Suez conflict. From 1953 until 1957, he worked in general practice.

He joined Boots Pure Drug (as it was known) in 1957 as a medical adviser, adapting to the demands of business life with alacrity and advancing swiftly up the corporate ladder. By 1968, he had been made head of research and he joined the board in 1969. He became chairman in 1982 and retired in 1985.

He had just retired to an enviable new home in Speyside when in 1986 he was called upon by Margaret Thatcher's government to resolve the pay and conditions dispute that had wracked Scottish education for two years.

The Prime Minister was no friend of committees of inquiry: the Clegg commission, soon after she entered Downing Street, had given teachers across the UK pay increases that fuelled inflation. Sir Peter Main and his colleagues produced a report that answered many of the teachers' complaints about pressure of work and recommended a new pay structure with moderate gains that all, except a minority of union militants, could accept.

Government, union leaders and parents appreciated the skill with which a businessman from outside had cut through the claims and counter-claims and created conditions for peace. That peace lasted, indeed has lasted until the present day. All sides in education have learnt that disputes must not lead to national confrontation.

Main began work when the Government needed an end to industrial conflict before the 1987 General Election. A dispute with English teachers had just been settled. Teachers and their leaders here welcomed the committee of inquiry and the chance to restore normality because they knew that public support for a strategy of disruption in the classrooms and with national exams was wearing thin.

The Main report took six months to prepare. By proposing a contractual limit on teachers' hours of work and a new grade of senior teacher, aimed at rewarding skills in the classroom, as well as a pay structure that removed layers of complexity, Main demonstrated orginality of thought and sound sense. Reading the report made one think ahead to what might be, rather than dwell on the history of discontents.

Sir Peter Main was married twice. His first wife, Margaret, died in 1982. He married his second wife, May, in 1986. She survives him, along with two sons and a daughter from his first marriage.

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