THE annual conflict between NUT left-wingers and the education secretary may have been cancelled, but this year's conference in Harrogate marks the beginning of a much bigger battle.
Doug McAvoy, general secretary, ended speculation last month when he told The TES that he was not standing for another term in 2004.
Since then the three men expected to vie for his succession - John Bangs, the union's head of education, John Illingworth, former NUT president and Steve Sinnot, NUT deputy general secretary - have all confirmed their candidature. Others may yet join the fray.
Mr Illingworth, who launches his campaign at a fringe meeting tomorrow, has the support of the left, with the Socialist Teachers' Alliance and Campaign for a Democratic and Fighting Union expected to back him.
But with previous election turn-outs of around 70,000 to 80,000, this may count for little as the bulk of voters will be grassroots teachers who care little for internal union politics.
Mr Illingworth's election statement emphasises his role as a serving head giving him an "up-to-date hands-on knowledge of schools".
The only way to recruit and retain teachers is to remove market forces from education, he argues. He points to the success of hard-left candidates in leadership elections in unions such as Amicus, the maunfacturing union.
But Mr Sinnott argues that a far-left NUT general secretary would be disastrous for both teachers and the union movement. He believes the time is right for professional unity and that a single union would have helped teachers get a better workload deal (Platform, page 19).
Deputy general secretary since the mid 90s, Mr Sinnott was sidelined by Mr McAvoy. But this has allowed him to build up a presence in local branches and schools throughout the country.
Mr Bangs is a former member of the Socialist Teachers' Alliance but now seen as a moderate. He led the union's opposition to testing in the early 1990s and played a key role in recent workload negotiations.
With a higher media profile than either of the other candidiates, Mr Bangs is seen as a favourite of Mr McAvoy's, often standing in for him at conferences and leading the union's workload negotiations.
Although he stresses he is very much his own man, he also points to his part in successes under Mr McAvoy. "Why should I distance myself from policies of success?" he said. "NUT membership is now at a 20-year high."
Personal life: Married to fellow NUT member, two children in their twenties. A keen artist and member of Kent wildlife trust.
Experience: Taught for 18 years in secondary and special schools. NUT head of education and equal opportunities since 1993. Led campaign against national tests.
Key issues: Tackling workload while protecting qualified teachers' status.
"The future of the profession is at stake." Developing quality professional services for members.
Pet hates: "Education gobbledygook. I have complete sympathy for those people who find their brains die when they listen to ministers talk."
Chances: Seen as Doug McAvoy's preferred successor. Has the highest profile of any candidate but may lack grassroots power base.
Personal life: Married with two adult children. Interests include cooking, sailing and golf.
Experience: 30 years teaching experience and now head of Bendinck primary and nursery school in Nottingham. Former NUT president and member of national executive.
Key issues: Testing, targets and the "fragmentation" of comprehensive secondary education. "For too long the leadership of our union has been complacent and ineffective."
Pet hates: "Time wasting - probably ... because ministers waste so much of teachers' time."
Chances: Candidate of the hard left who may benefit from disillusionment with Government or if moderate vote is split.
Personal life: Married. Two children both in twenties. Interests include cycling and Everton.
Experience: Ex-president of the union, he has won two elections for deputy general secretary, a post he has held since 1995. Taught for 19 years in North-west.
Key issues: Professional unity, workload, testing and targets.
"It is possible for teachers to have a life outside of school and teachers'
organisations have a pivotal role in making these things possible. The key is professional unity."
Pet hates: "Cynicism. It is destructive and it leads you nowhere."
Chances: Largely sidelined by current general secretary Doug McAvoy but has real support among the union's large broad left group. Probably favourite.