Award is fruit of labour

Philippa White

Susan Palmer didn't believe that "just a little part-time teacher" could win a Welsh teaching award.

But her award for innovation in a primary school was scooped because of the stream of initiatives flowing from her classroom in Ysgol Cynfran, Llysfaem, in Colwyn Bay. One singled out by the judges was a phonetics course for special-needs pupils, which Mrs Palmer adapted for the whole school. Working with a colleague, she added her own ideas and rewrote the course to provide a year-long structured programme for mainstream pupils in every year of primary.

Her new booklets link phonetics to reading, spelling and dictation and use 10-minute games and tests to reinforce a set number of sounds each week.

Conwy education authority is so impressed it now wants to use the programme in other schools.

Mrs Palmer has also spent three years building links with schools in Iceland, Malta and Italy, which culminated in an international cook-book written by pupils.

She organises language assistants and language clubs, and as co-ordinator of a healthy-schools project has set up initiatives including an in-school fruit shop.

"One girl said to me 'Mrs Palmer, I can't believe I've had fresh pineapple'," she said. "It almost brings tears to your eyes."

Geraint Williams, the head of Cynfran, is not surprised by her success.

"She has the drive and energy to take ownership of new projects, and then works with other staff to get them on board," he said. "And she has a very happy disposition. I've never heard her raise her voice or become flustered by anything."

But her award did come as a surprise to Mike, her husband of 23 years. In his excitement after the ceremony, he filled up their diesel-engined car with petrol. The car - complete with their children Sion, 19, and Angharad, 17 - had to be towed, which meant the family returned home two hours late and missed their congratulatory restaurant dinner.

"Instead of celebrating in style, I had a sausage sandwich in a Little Chef," laughed Mrs Palmer.

Her career was inspired by her father, a primary headteacher in Ysgol Craig-y-don, Llandudno. "My father loved being with children and young people," she said. "When I was at secondary school I would walk to his school on the way home. Some of the children would be there playing sport and it was just fun to be with them."

After training at St Katharine's college in Liverpool, she taught in Blaenafon and Newport, and for the past 10 years has worked part-time at Ysgol Cynfran.

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Philippa White

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