Sue McMahon has represented teachers and campaigned on educational issues for the past 20 years in her role as the divisional secretary for the Calderdale branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and is standing-down next month and retiring from teaching.
Sue trained to be a teacher in 1975, gaining her first teaching role in the north east in 1979.
“I used to teach at Sedgefield Comprehensive - Sedgefield of course is the constituency of Tony Blair,” she says.
“One day after school, all the staff were lined-up in the playground to meet the new prospective Parliamentary candidate Tony Blair.
“He came and shook hands with everybody and he had the wet lettuce leaf handshake and I remember turning around to a colleague and saying ‘well he’s not going to to get anywhere with a handshake like that’.”
In 1989 Sue moved to Calderdale with her family and worked as a supply teacher at Greetland Primary School and Brooksbank School.
Over her career she has taken up posts at Brighouse High School, Sowerby Bridge High School and most recently at Halifax High School.
“The changes in the classroom since I started teaching are beyond belief,” says Sue.
“We’ve seen so many things put in place: the National Curriculum; SATs; there’s far more testing; there’s far more data; there’s far more teaching to the test and I think that’s to the detriment of young people’s education,” she says.
“The role of teaching has changed. There isn’t time anymore for the extra-curricular activities that used to be commonplace.
“When I started teaching, everybody did an activity, but now those teachers are in meetings and more meetings, inputting data and triple-marking work - there;s a lot more admin.”
Since Sue became active with the NUT in 1992, she has become increasingly concerned that teachers have found their jobs made more difficult through interference by successive governments.
“I’m struggling to think of how things have improved for teachers over the years,” says Sue.
“The job’s got harder, we’ve lost negotiation rights, our pensions are being whittled away, teachers are having to work longer and it’s far more prescriptive than it ever was.
“It was former Education Secretary Michael Gove that brought about the demonisation of teachers,” she says.
“Unfortunately I think the present Secretary of State is just paying lip service and isn’t listening.
“She’s done surveys on things like workload, but nothing’s being done about it.”
Sue says she was thrown in the deep-end during the early days of being divisional secretary in 1995.
One of the first cases Sue had to deal with was at Ferney Lee Primary School in Todmorden.
At the time the school had classroom sizes of more than 45 pupils - a number that made national headlines.
“I was on the way to teach and I had a phone-call from Richard and Judy - my first contact with the press, so that was a steep learning curve,” she says. “You didn’t have anything like media training back then.”
Sue says the work she’s been most proud of is in representing teachers who find themselves needed union representation.
“I’m proud of what I’ve achieved for individual members over the years,” says Sue. “99 per cent of my work is unseen and what I’ve achieved through casework and representing members.
“It’s been daunting at times, it’s been upsetting, but when you achieve something for that person I’m really pleased for them.
“I have to deal with members who are receiving emails and texts from senior leadership of the school at ten o’clock on a Sunday night.
“Technology can be of use, but it has to be of use in the right context,” says Sue.
“In a good school it get used well, but in a school that has issues it can become of a demand on teachers - and that’s down to management.
“You do find it can be a form of bullying - putting more pressure on a member.”
Sue isn’t hopeful about the future of schools - she is concerned about increased privatisation, more tests for younger children, more unqualified teachers in the classroom and less job security for teachers.
“The way the educational landscape is changing there is going to be less funding and more redundancies - well, we’re not going to sit back and do nothing,” says Sue.
“Academies have been to the detriment of education - it’s about the privatisation of education and the break-up of Local Education Authorities.
“Today we have Ofsted - you even breathe the word in a school and it gets people on edge.
“We used to have Her Majesty’s Inspectors who used to come into schools - they were practitioners who worked their way up through the system.
“They were valued because they gave concrete advice and were always welcomed in schools.
“Now you have mock Ofsteds, mini Ofsteds, and it’s going to get far worse because any school that’s considered a coasting school - which has yet to be defined - will be forced to become can academy,” she says.
“Parkinson Lane is a thriving community school that’s not an academy - you have to ask if they can create such a wonderful school community, you do have to question why there’s such a push for academisation.”
James Wilson will be replacing Sue as divisional secretary when she steps down on July 16.