THE Association of Teachers and Lecturers faces the prospect of a potentially divisive leadership election next year after its executive chose to back an outsider for the pound;107,000 job.
Dr Mary Bousted, head of Kingston University school of education, in Surrey, will become the new general secretary if the union's 70 executive members get their way. She would succeed Peter Smith, who has retired for health reasons.
Dr Bousted impressed the union's selection panel with a presentation on current developments affecting teachers' pay and conditions, despite having no previous union experience.
On the advice of the panel, the executive rejected the candidacy of Gerald Imison, deputy general secretary, and two other external candidates. Mr Imison is understood to be unhappy about the decision and is considering running against Dr Bousted.
As deputy general secretary, a post he has held since 1995, Mr Imison has specialised in pay and conditions. However, until Mr Smith's announcement he was a relatively low-profile figure and it was always understood that the ATL would look further afield in its recruitment drive.
Michael Moore, president of the ATL and one of seven members of the selection panel, said that Dr Bousted had been the most impressive of the candidates and she was best placed to increase the union's influence and improve services to members.
Any ATL member is free to challenge the leadership's decision and stand against Dr Bousted in an election, which would be held in March. Others who may be interested in standing include Chris Wilson, chair of the union's further education committee. The winner would then be announced in time for the annual conference in Blackpool in April.
Due to strict ATL election rules, Dr Bousted is unable to canvass for the post before other nominees have been put forward.
Professor Caroline Gipps, deputy vice-chancellor of Kingston University, said: "I think the important thing is her range of experience in teaching and teacher education, and the fact that she's very effective and dynamic."
Meanwhile, Dr Bousted, 43, has 45 undergraduate assignments to mark and an Office for Standards in Education inspection on the horizon. Retaining a hands-on teaching role, she says, is part and parcel of her job.
A passion for education was something Dr Bousted inherited from her teacher parents while growing up in Bolton.
"Education and politics were very much the life of the tea table," she said. On graduating from Hull University with a degree in English, Dr Bousted studied for a postgraduate certificate in education at Durham University.
She then spent a decade teaching at secondary schools in north London before setting up and running a PGCE course at the University of York, where she gained a PhD in curriculum development. Her next move was to Edge Hill College, Lancashire, where she was head of the secondary teacher-training programme for two years.