In the tradition

15th June 2007 at 01:00
KIRSTY DEVANEY, the first president in the 161-year-long history of the EIS to come from the further education sector, is following a proud family tradition.

Her grandmother was one of the earliest female teachers to emerge from Aberdeen University's King's College, where she followed a combined degree in domestic science and teacher training in 1908. She had been a pupil at Fordyce Academy in Banffshire, as was Mrs Devaney's mother - both testament to the school's reputation for high academic achievement and providing bursaries which allowed local children to pursue further study.

Mrs Devaney spent her early years in Fraserburgh before moving to the Forfar area. At university, she gained a degree in philosophy and went on to train as a primary teacher. After teaching for nearly eight years, she left to have her youngest child - and then, in the early 1980s, couldn't get back into primary teaching.

But the fact that she had some maths in her degree meant she could take up a job in the college sector to teach basic numeracy. She took an Open University degree in maths to get her "up to the standard" and is now head of the maths section at Dundee College.

Her husband, Tom, was a prominent member of the EIS - president in 1991-92 - before retiring as assistant head at Monifieth High.

Her union acti-vism started in the 1980s, as convener of the Dundee College branch, followed by election to the executive committee of the College Lecturers' Association. As pay strikes erupted in schools in the 1980s, Mrs Devaney would take her young daughter on marches. But it was the 1990s that heralded the greatest unrest for the FE sector with the Tory government's plans to incorporate colleges.

Industrial relations in some colleges through the 1990s were "just appalling", she says - although there are signs of greater stability emerging in some parts of the sector: "There is maybe a bit less of the macho privatisation chief executive-style of things now, although that still happens - witness the disputes at Perth and James Watt colleges."

Some of the newer principals are better at trying to find solutions that do not involve confrontation. "Maybe it's no accident that a number are wo-men," she says.

Top of her list of priorities is to achieve national bargaining for the FE sector. She would also like to see lecturers given better continuing professional development to support their work with the influx of school-age youngsters who are now following vocational courses at college - which Mrs Devaney sees as "a mixed blessing" for lecturers.

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