Sad loss of much-loved union chief

24th December 2004 at 00:00
Education lost Eamonn O'Kane, one of its most popular and well-respected leaders to cancer in May.

The death of the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers came in a year when the National Union of Teachers elected a new leader.

Mr O'Kane became general secretary in 2002 and will probably be best remembered for his central role in the negotiating and signing of the school workforce agreement in January 2003.

But the 58-year-old's other great goal, that of a unified teaching union, appeared to move further away during his tenure, due in part to the aggressive stance taken by his opposite number at the NUT, Doug McAvoy. The pugnacious anti-agreement Geordie marked his final conference before retiring as leader of the NUT with a rabble-rousing speech that condemned those who had signed the deal for betraying teachers.

A marathon leadership election campaign was won in June by Steve Sinnott, the Scouse former deputy general secretary, who has so far taken a much less abrasive tone with his fellow unions.

In October, Mr O'Kane's deputy Chris Keates was appointed new NASUWT general secretary, after her only rival, the professional unity campaigner Hank Roberts, failed to clear the union's high hurdle for local branch nominations. A self-confessed workaholic, Ms Keates has already proved a fierce defender of the deal signed by her former boss.

This month the National Association of Head Teachers named David Hawker as its preferred successor to David Hart who retires as general secretary in the summer. But it did not take long before rumours that he would be challenged started. Mick Brookes, a Nottinghamshire junior head and former NAHT president, is confident of getting the nominations from three of the association's 11 regions he needs to trigger an election, by January 21.

In Government, Baroness Ashton, junior education minister, and Lord Filkin, who had been working in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, swapped jobs. Alan Johnson was rewarded for his hard work in bringing in top-up fees as higher education minister with a promotion to Secretary of State for work and pensions in September. He was replaced by Kim Howells, former minister for lifelong learning, transport, and culture. Dr Howells's most famous foray into the world of arts was denouncing the 2002 Tate prize contest for modern art as "conceptual bullshit".

The Tories scrapped their experiment of having a joint shadow secretary for education and health, shifting Tim Yeo to transport. The combative Tim Collins, who had been shadow education under-secretary, was promoted to education spokesman.

July saw the end of Labour leader of Newham Council Graham Lane's seven year stint as chair of the Local Government Association's education executive. Alison King, Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council, become the first chair of a new LGA children and young people board.

Celia Hoyle, a London University Institute of Education professor and former children's TV presenter, was appointed the Government's new maths "tsar".

After five years heading the National College for School Leadership, Heather Du Quesnay left to become chief executive of the troubled English Schools Foundation Hong Kong.

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