Daunting double act for new chair

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
The headteacher of a challenging Cardiff comprehensive has strong ideas about his role at the General Teaching Council for Wales. Nerys Lloyd-Pierce reports

This week Mal Davies, headteacher at Willows high school in Cardiff, takes over from professor John Andrews as chair of the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW)- the first serving teacher to hold the post.

"Notionally it's a release of two days a week. We'll just have to see how being chair fits in with the demands of a pretty challenging day job," says Mr Davies, 54, who was formerly deputy chair of the GTCW.

"I will be forming my opinions and assessing my priorities from within the profession."

Jacqui Turnbull, the new deputy chair, agrees that his insider knowledge and level-headed approach will stand him in good stead. "He has a down-to-earth understanding of teaching, which he manages to combine with a vision for the profession's future, and an ability to see the bigger picture," she says.

Mr Davies began his career 32 years ago in London. The offer of a head of department post in technology, at Twmpath school in his home town, Pontypool, brought him back to Wales. He still lives just outside the town and often bumps into former pupils. Nine years as a deputy head at Newbridge comprehensive school followed, serving under three very different headteachers.

"It was almost like working in three separate schools," he recalls. "When the head changes, the role of the deputy changes more than anyone else's."

Mr Davies sees the GTCW as the gamekeeper of professional standards. One of his aims is to elevate the status of teaching so that increasingly it attracts high-calibre candidates.

"I think teaching went through a doldrums period to match the baby boom when we just needed to draw the numbers in, and the suitability of some teachers in that period was questionable," he says. "Now I am very inspired by the quality of young teachers - they come to the profession extremely well trained and very highly motivated. We need to build on that by celebrating the success of teachers and emphasising the importance of their role.

"No other profession has quite such an important part to play in shaping society."

His own school, where he has been head for 10 years, is situated within one of Wales's child curfew zones - youngsters under 16 are barred from wandering the streets after 9pm. And it is in schools like Willows, rather than in the "leafier" establishments, that teachers have the biggest influence, he says, "making pupils feel that they are stakeholders in society".

Another of Mr Davies's goals for the GTCW is to lobby for a more flexible retirement structure for teachers.

"Rather than insist that teachers stay on until they are scrapheap material, many other European countries allow them to opt for a semi-retirement situation without it affecting their pension rights. Within the British system, if you take any kind of step back, your pension is severely affected," he says.

"I'm hoping that we can look at ways in which teachers can reduce their workload so that they can contribute effectively for longer."

He plans to harness the productive relationship the GTCW has with the Welsh Assembly government to address other key issues, such as continuing professional development. Although the Assembly cut funding for this last year, Mr Davies is hopeful that the money will be reinstated.

He also maintains that every class should have a learning support assistant.

"It's essential that we remove some of the burdens from teachers so that they can concentrate on the learning process," he says.

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