TV contest proves too sexy for the unions

Millions tuned in to see 10 svelte staff vie for the title of Britain's sexiest teacher. But did the ITV show demean the profession? Michael Shaw reports

IF headteachers start demanding a swimwear round in staff interviews, blame ITV. An estimated three million people tuned in this week to watch as five "hunks" and five "babes" battled it out live for the title of Britain's sexiest teacher.

Teaching unions complained that the beauty contest demeaned the profession. But such criticisms did not bother contestants, who marched down a catwalk in their swimsuits to the strains of School's Out For Summer.

At least 200 teachers were nominated for the contest, whittled down to the 10 finalists by producers at Carlton Television.

A favourite was "rugged" Nick Lamorte from Worcester, who won a loud "aahh" from the audience when he explained that he taught four-year-olds. The 26-year-old is used to comments about his looks from pupils' mothers because he is the only male teacher at Colmore infants' school.

"My headteacher saw an article about the contest in The TES and gave copies of it to the older teachers as a joke," he explained. "But they kept waving it at me in the staff room so I thought: 'If they think it's hilarious, I'll show them', and I auditioned."

Unfortunately, in a phone poll more than 40,000 voters instead picked Doncaster martial arts instructor Morgan Howard, 25, as the sexiest male.

The choice led to some muttering back-stage from the other teacher contestants, particularly Lee Morgan, deputy head of science at Southway community college in Plymouth. "He's not a real schoolteacher, is he?" said the 28-year-old, who had jived across the studio in his white lab coat.

"Toothy blonde" Natasha Grey was voted sexiest female teacher, news that will get pulses racing at Manor community school in Cambridge where she begins teaching PE next week.

The 24-year-old is not apprehensive about arriving at the job with her new title. "I'd be noticed anyway," she said. "It's all just a bit of fun, and it will blow over."

The Department for Education and Skills is unimpressed by the show. A spokeswoman urged teachers to consider their professional image and their responsibility to children and parents.

Unions joined the attack. Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, described the show as "a demeaning performance which undermines the professional reputation of teachers". A National Union of Teachers spokeswoman added: "Sex appeal is not what teachers should be about in their working life."

However, contestants were convinced that the show would boost the image of teachers, and could even help recruitment. "People have this idea that women teachers always wear glasses and long skirts," Natasha said. "This shows that they are real people."

It was a view shared by the presenters, former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry McFadden and ex-EastEnders actor Michael Greco, who said that it was time viewers saw what teachers had "hidden under their starched shirts".

The Britain's Sexiest... series reaches its climax on Sunday when the winning teachers compete against the sexiest fitness instructors, airline crew, builders, doctors, nurses and firefighters to win a car and a holiday in the Bahamas.

The final will be on ITV1 this Sunday at 10pm.

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