Obituary - Ally Brennan 1963-2012

Adi Bloom

Among some colleagues, Ally Brennan was the PE fairy; among others, she was the sunshine in their working lives. And, in between, she was one of the first PE advanced skills teachers in the country.

Alison Valentine was born in September 1963. Growing up in Cambridgeshire, she showed a natural aptitude for sport, and particularly for hockey and gymnastics.

During her first week training to become a PE teacher at the University of Warwick, she met Peter Brennan, a fellow PE student. They were to remain a couple, eventually having two sons, Joe and Alfie.

Her first job, in 1986, was at Finham Park comprehensive, in Coventry. But she liked being at home, and home was Cambridgeshire. A year later, she was working at Huntingdon's Sawtry Community College.

She knew what she wanted from her pupils, and made it clear: she wanted them to do their best. She was less concerned about pupils' actual sporting ability than how hard they tried.

Later in her career, she set up a school hockey team. Playing against private schools, however, they accepted how hard the competition often was. "Just try your hardest," Ms Brennan said. "And I'll get you McDonald's on the way home."

In 1996, she and Pete left to teach in Bangkok. They wanted to challenge themselves, to try something different. However, Ms Brennan missed home too much: two years later, they were back in Cambridgeshire.

In 2001, she took a job as an advanced skills PE teacher at nearby Comberton Village College. Her mantra was that she did not teach PE; she taught children. And so she began to work with Comberton's feeder primaries. Gradually, she persuaded non-specialist primary teachers that they had the necessary skills to teach PE well. The "PE fairy", they called her.

She believed in others so convincingly that they began to believe in themselves. She badgered one pupil to take up a leadership position, and had no time for his protestations that he was ill-suited for such responsibility. The boy went on to become head prefect.

Under her watch, Comberton achieved Healthy School status. It proved something of an own goal. Addicted to iced buns, she had eaten one every day with her cup of tea. Under the new rules, the school was allowed to sell them only once a week.

This would have generated a few expletives. It astonished her colleagues that someone so self-controlled in the classroom could swear so much out of it. She cared strongly about children's education, and made her points forcefully: there was no diplomatic pretence about her.

Behind her confident front, however, she was often anxious about letting people down. But few saw this side of her: she was the colleague chivvying them to come and have lunch in the sunshine. "When you think of Ally, it's summer," people always said.

Her cancer was diagnosed 16 months ago. During her illness, school dinner staff sent her boxes of iced buns.

Ally Brennan died on 13 February.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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