WHEN Dr Mary Bousted took over one of the teaching unions she headed for a tour of Swindon's schools within months.

Dr Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, took up her role earlier this year and is one of just three women running trade unions in the country.

And the straight-talking former comprehensive school teacher has some honest opinions about what is going wrong in Swindon.

She has big concerns about the testing regime in primary schools and fears the £60 million Private Finance Initiative project to build seven schools in North Swindon could end up costing the town in the long run.

Specialist schools and league tables also came in for criticism.

Dr Bousted knows that a magic wand cannot be waved to bring more cash for education into Swindon, despite the fact it is one of the worst funded authorities in the country.

But she says the Government should take into account the fact that areas of urban deprivation exist throughout the town.

She said: "I came to Swindon because I was invited by the local branch and I was expecting to find a diverse community with pockets of deprivation.

"Swindon does look like a very affluent town but we know there are areas of deprivation here and the way funding is worked out does not make it very sensitive to variations inside a local education authority."

The ATL has a strong membership base at Headlands School, which has seen three headteachers in the space of six months.

In a bid to bring more cash into the town, almost every school in Swindon has bid, or is in the process of bidding for, performing arts status.

But Dr Bousted has reservations about how much schools will benefit in the long term.

She said: "If heads can identify sources of extra funding they will do but research evidence shows quite clearly that specialist schools have failed in one of their key functions.

"They are supposed to share their good practice but this has not been achieved because schools are in competition with each other because of league tables.

"The other issue is that just because you are a specialist school it does not mean every child wants to specialise."

Dr Bousted spent a busy day in Swindon, meeting staff and heads at Grange Junior, Haydon Wick and Hreod Parkway schools, as well as Swindon's director of education Hilary Pitts and holding an open meeting for teachers belonging to the ATL.