Tipped for top union spots

The New Year has got off to a busy start for the teaching unions, with two major jobs up for grabs. William Stewart reports

Polls open today in the contest to decide who will be deputy leader of Britain's biggest teaching union. The front runner to become the National Union of Teachers' deputy general secretary, in terms of local nominations at least, is John Bangs.

And he has had plenty of opportunity to hone his electioneering skills.

Twelve months ago he was in the middle of a marathon race for the top job.

By the time the result for deputy general secretary is announced, at the end of this month, he will have effectively spent more than 20 months campaigning in the two NUT elections.

Mr Bangs, 55, has spent thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours travelling to hustings, attempting to convince members that he is worthy of their votes.

He was beaten into third place for the general secretary post behind Steve Sinnott and Ian Murch in the summer, but now he has won the backing of 79 branches for the deputy's job. Mr Bangs, a keen amateur artist when not competing in union elections, is the pound;50,000-a-year NUT head of education.

His only rival for the pound;70,000 deputy post is Christine Blower, the 1997 NUT president, who is supported by the union's three left-wing factions and 54 branches.

Mr Bangs has the backing of supporters of Mr Sinnott, NUT general secretary, and claims his experience as a lay activist and paid national official means he is the only candidate with sufficient experience.

Mrs Blower is stressing her role as a peripatetic primary teacher of children with behavioural difficulties.

"I have got more recent experience of actually working as a teacher," she said. "You have a different perspective if you have been doing the job rather than looking in from the outside."

She has been a keen campaigner against national curriculum tests and famously kept her elder daughter, Sophie, off school when they were being taken. "They were a complete waste of time and she had a better time at home," said Mrs Blower.

The 53-year-old secretary of the NUT's Hammersmith and Fulham branch stood unsuccessfully for the NUT leadership, in 1998 and was beaten by Doug McAvoy, the union's former general secretary.

She believes that because most of the union's membership is female it will give her an advantage in the election.

Her pastimes include gardening, going to the opera and reading crime fiction.

This month, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' deputy general secretary post is also open.

Jerry Bartlett, acting DGS, is the front runner for the pound;67,317 job in Britain's second-largest teaching union. It was advertised last month and, unlike the NUT position, will be decided by executive committee appointment rather than a membership election.

The application pack states that experience of participating in the NASUWT at a high level is a prerequisite. Mr Bartlett, a 56-year-old former special needs teacher and National Union of Public Employees official from the midlands, has been an NASUWT official since 1992 when he was appointed a legal officer.

He became assistant general secretary in 1997 and acting DGS following the death of Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary, last year. Mr Bartlett is a former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain who switched to Labour in the 1980s but resigned his membership in 1997, disillusioned with the direction being taken under Tony Blair.

However, he is firmly behind the close working relationship his union has with the Government.

Mr Bartlett is also a keen fisherman and is the founder and previous winner of the NASUWT national angling championship.

Tim Beech, NASUWT Eastern regional organiser, has also applied for the DGS job. Interviews will be held on January 21.

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