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Former priest finds new calling as chief of the ATL

A former priest with a taste for Italian cuisine has been appointed director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union in Wales.

Philip Dixon, 42, a native of The Rhondda who likes to holiday in Abruzzi, southern Italy, has taken a circuitous route to his present post. And along the way, his path has also crossed a mind-boggling, cross-party array of political and policy-making figures.

At Treorchy comprehensive, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, he was taught history and politics by "a very radical, left-wing teacher in his 20s called David Egan -now a professor and the Assembly government's special adviser on education.

Dr Dixon then went on to read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, where he was a contemporary of history undergraduate Andrew Adonis, "a leading light in the Oxford SDP".

Lord Adonis, former education adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair, is now schools minister in the Westminster Labour government. And during his doctoral studies at Cambridge, Dr Dixon discovered that the only other person working in his research area was John Redwood, the Conservative former secretary of state for Wales.

But it was the priesthood, not politics, that first claimed his attention after graduating from Oxford. After training, he tended the deprived parish of Tredegar Park, in Newport, and taught theology and religious studies at Newport university college.

He collected his Cambridge doctorate in 1998, which formed the basis for a book, Nice and Hot Disputes: The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century, published in 2003.

But after 12 years as a priest he quit in 2002 and joined Plaid Cymru's policy unit as an education researcher, becoming special adviser to party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones in the run-up to the 2003 National Assembly elections. He moved to the Catholic aid charity CAFOD in December 2003, and last month was appointed director of the ATL in Wales, with a remit to increase membership and support existing members.

He says he will also keep a close eye on the implementation of the workforce agreement's guarantee of 10 per cent planning, preparation and assessment time, and the replacement of management allowances with new teaching and learning responsibility points.

While he would like to see law-making powers for the Assembly, he feels education has been one of the Labour government's greatest successes.

"I know ATL members in England look enviously across the border to what's going on here. There have been some good moves, especially abolishing national tests.

"We would like to see teachers being allowed to make decisions for themselves. The abolition of tests is a good start."

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