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A woman of substance

AS A little girl, Ann Ballinger used to play "classrooms". Today, she has just been invested as the latest president of one of Scotland's most influential teaching unions.

Teaching, like many industries, still has a disproportionately low number of women in positions of power - something Mrs Ballinger is keen to see change. Asked about her goals as president, her first instinct is to promote sexual equality.

With passion, she says: "I would very much like to see more women involved in the workings of the association, particularly in the executive and as officers. There is a tendency for women to think, 'I can't'. I know, because that's how I felt."

She attributes her rapid rise within the association to encouragement from another woman - Barbara Clark, former assistant secretary of the SSTA. But women's rights are not her sole focus. Mrs Ballinger is a fervent believer in trade unionism and believes the association is as important as ever to its members, whom she is keen to activate.

"When people stop you and say: 'The union should do something about this', my response is always 'You are the union'. If people don't go to meetings and say, 'This is what we want and this is how we feel', then your representatives don't know that," she says.

"When my father was a member of the National Union of Mineworkers, workers were fighting for their right not to risk death every time they went to work. The rights of all workers can be eroded very easily and sometimes you don't realise it is happening, because it is death by a thousand cuts - death by erosion."

Her enthusiasm for teaching means she is determined to remain in the classroom during her year's presidency - a facility which East Dunbarton-shire Council has made possible. She will continue to teach history and RE one day a week at Bishopbriggs Academy.

The divorced 55-year-old, who is originally from Tranent in East Lothian, says: "It's my personal view that I can't represent teachers if I am not at the chalkface at least once a week."

She trained at Jordanhill after gaining an Open University degree in history and RE in the 1980s, returning to education after having two sons and a daughter. "I had always wanted to become a teacher," she told The TESS: "I was one of those little girls who would play classrooms."

Today, she no doubt dreams of more little girls growing up to fill her presidential shoes in the future.

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