Spinning plates? Wait till he really gets going

20th April 2001 at 01:00
This year's president of the NASUWT has two mobile phones and boundless energy, reports Biddy Passmore

Spending time with Tony Hardman, this year's president of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, can be an unnerving experience.

He carries two mobiles phone with him (he's cut down from four) and each is constantly warbling its native woodnote wild. The sociable Mr Hardman is always doing several things at once and likes to keep in touch.

"I'm amazed at the number of plates he keeps spinning without dropping any of them," says his friend and fellow Liverpool head Alan Smithies.

"Energy" is the word that crops up most often in any conversation about Tony Hardman. A man who averages four to five hours' sleep - and can get by with none at all - his energy took him from a poor but ambitious family in Liverpool's Dock Road to become, at 32, the youngest-ever secondary head in the city.

But that was not enough to keep him busy. He also rose swiftly through the ranks of the NASUWT, the union traditionally favoured by Liverpool teachers, and - like many of the city's secondary heads - he stayed with the union when he became a headteacher.

In 1982, when he joined the union's national executive as joint head of the Merseyside associations, he had already been a headteacher for eight years. A local union treasurer was rash enough to tell him he could not be a head and do the job. He was forced to eat his words when Hardman's first piece of casework in the area led to the successful prosecution of a parent who had assaulted a young teacher in a secondary school.

For the past seven years, he has spent perhaps two days a week chairig the union's salaries and conditions of service and pensions committee.

His current school, Archbishop Beck Roman Catholic comprehensive, does not seem to have suffered. When he took over the newly-created school after city-wide reorganisation in the early 1980s, it had 680 pupils and a sixth form of three. Now it has 1,400 pupils and a 200-strong sixth form. Last September, it became Liverpool's first sports college.

He says the school emerged well from an Office for Standards in Education inspection last month. "Never mind the inspectors' remarks about its visionary head," he jokes, "I'm chuffed that the staff and kids came out of it very well."

Tony Hardman never taught the subject he studied. He attended St Francis Xavier's college, one of the few state schools in the country that still teaches the classics, and went on to study Latin and Greek at Liverpool University. He started teaching at inner-city secondary moderns and, as he says: "There wasn't an awful lot of Greek being taught in Huyton and Knowsley." He taught English instead.

His wife Sheila, to whom he's been married for nearly 25 years, is a former pupil. After bringing up their two sons and a daughter, she has recently become a care assistant in a special school. Her fond summing-up of her husband? "A workaholic who never stops and functions best in a crisis."

When he was not charging around his school or going down to meetings in Birmingham and London, Mr Hardman used to spend a lot of time on the tennis court. His two sons have reached high levels in the game and are now pursuing careers as tennis coaches. Football is another passion. If you hadn't guessed, he supports Everton.

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