Mary became General Secretary of the ATL in 2003 after seeing the job advertised in the Guardian.Her initial challenges included addressing declining union membership and profile. Under her leadership ATL has grown in influence, developing a strong policy base on key educational issues such as curriculum and assessment changes, school accountability and school structures.
Mary writes a regular column for the Times Educational Supplement. Her columns focus on the politics of education and the lives of education professionals, and are regularly accessed online by hundreds of thousands of readers both in the UK and the USA.
Mary led the fight against the coalition government’s plans to change teachers’ pensions – steering ATL through the union’s first national strike, a one-day strike by teachers in England and Wales on 30 June 2011.
This was followed by a one-day strike on 30 November 2011 alongside 20 other education and public sector unions. As a result of the two national strikes the unions secured a better pensions package than they had originally been offered.
Mary is an active member of the TUC Executive and General Council. She is committed to adult learning and has chaired the unionlearn – the TUC’s learning and skills organisation – board from 2009 to the present. She served for the maximum two terms as a member of the ACAS board, and was Chair of the ACAS audit committee. Mary has debated at the Oxford union, and regularly appears on national media.
The second youngest of eight children and the daughter of teachers, Mary was born in Bolton and began her career as an English teacher and Head of English in comprehensive schools in North London, before moving to higher education.
She set up the English teacher training programme at York University and ran the secondary teacher training programme at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, before joining Kingston University as the head of the school of education.
While teaching in Harrow, Mary joined the NUT and was her school rep, attending branch meetings. Mary’s former pupils include barrister and former Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti, who spoke at Congress last year.
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