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'Only a teaching assistant' is the pick of the year

Mother-of-four Sharon Bowen left school with no qualifications.

But, with the maturity of age and with the invaluable experience of raising a family, she's back in school, and has been hailed for inspiring disaffected and less academically able pupils - helping them to become valuable members of society, too.

Last year, the 47-year-old was appointed assistant head of year at Ysgol Dinas Bran, a 1,200-pupil bilingual comprehensive overlooking the picturesque inland resort of Llangollen. She joined the staff three years ago to help a Year 11 pupil, and now provides pastoral care for more than 200 children.

This summer, Mrs Bowen was declared secondary teaching assistant of the year in Wales at the annual teaching awards event in Cardiff. A governor of a primary school in the village where she lives, she decided to embark on a new career after standing in as a dinner lady. When a vacancy arose for a learning support assistant at Dinas Bran, it was an opportunity not to be missed.

"I was terrified the day I first stepped in here. But the kids respect me as a person rather than as a teaching assistant and I respect them.

"Our jobs are evolving. I used to call myself 'only' an LSA: I don't say that now because we have so much to offer. I left school with no qualifications and for the first time in my life I really believe I can make a difference," she said.

"Very often children think because they can't get qualifications there is nothing for them. We're giving them hope."

Mrs Bowen has completed an NVQ and is to study GCSE maths and English at college.

Dinas Bran teachers have supported and encouraged assistants. Colleagues have described her work with the vocational curriculum as exceptional. She has also encouraged pupils to join initiatives such as the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme.

Mrs Bowen led the transformation of wasteland at the school into a woodland garden.

Headteacher Marilyn Raine described her as "wonderful". She added: "We're well into the raising standards and tackling workload agenda.

"Sharon is assistant head of year and plays a key role with disaffected or less able pupils."

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