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Union move to push Puttnam out of office

Lord Puttnam's job is up for election but is he right for it? Warwick Mansell reports.

THE National Union of Teachers is to attempt to stop former film producer David Puttnam extending his chairmanship of England's General Teaching Council.

The NUT said this week it would support a challenger to the Labour peer if, as expected, he stands for re-election to the post, which he has held for the past 18 months.

Winning the poll would mean Lord Puttnam, who was appointed in December 1999 by former Education Secretary David Blunkett, but has never taught in a school, would lead the council for nearly three years.

Doug McAvoy, the NUT's general secretary, said: "We believe strongly that an independently elected teacher should stand for the chairmanship.

"If the GTC is seen to have greater independence than now, there has to be a teacher in this position."

Mr McAvoy said that the challenger need not be an NUT member. The union would support an election bid by any council member who was a serving teacher.

The first elections to the chairmanship, based on a poll of the council's 64 members will take place in July. The winner will serve for a year from September.

The move brought a mixed reaction from unions. Nigel de Gruchy, general Secretary of the Nationl Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said most teachers wanted to see a fellow professional in the post.

But Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, questioned whether an alternative candidate would emerge who had the confidence of the council and Lord Puttnam's clout with ministers and the public. Only 44 of the 64-member council are teachers.

Lord Puttnam, however, insisted this week that his mind was not made up on whether to stand. He acknowledged that some see him as a good advocate for the profession, whose close links with ministers are an asset. To others, that closeness - he was seen at Education Secretary Estelle Morris's side at her election count - undermines the council's independence.

But he added: "There's a very strong argument that sooner or later this post should go to a serving teacher. It's a question of getting my timing right on that."

Council papers revealed this week that the GTC plans to spend pound;125,000 a year on the chairman and vice-chairman's posts - effectively continuing the current funding level. It includes pound;70,391 for an office for the chairman, who will also receive pound;28,000 a year for two days' work a week. The vice-chair is recommended to receive pound;26,000 for a similar workload.

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