Fifties' rebel is a model head

29th July 2005 at 01:00
Alun Griffiths freely admits to having been "a bit of a rebel" on his arrival at Ystalyfera grammar in the Swansea Valley back in the late 1950s.

"I'd do anything to annoy teachers," he recalls. "If the headmaster told us not to wear red socks, I'd come in wearing yellow ones the following morning."

Who could have predicted that this soccer-loving Elvis Presley fan would have gone on to make an enormous impact in his chosen field of teaching, culminating this summer with the RAF-sponsored Pluto award for secondary headteacher of the year in Wales?

A passionate and emotional man, Alun Griffiths - who retires this summer after 35 years - wept on learning he had been short-listed for the award.

If his actual victory last month was a shock, an even bigger surprise awaited him on his triumphant return to Cefn Saeson comprehensive in Neath.

"The whole place was festooned with balloons and bunting," he marvels. "When I arrived, there was a kid waiting to open my car door and another waiting to carry my briefcase."

The entire school had turned out to welcome home their hugely popular headteacher, who ended up marching down a makeshift catwalk to the strains of Tina Turner's Simply The Best. "I was overwhelmed - I had never experienced such a carnival atmosphere," he says.

The happiness of that day was in stark contrast to the grim events of last September, when the suicide of former pupil Laura Rhodes cast a harsh media spotlight on Cefn Saeson.

Although a coroner ruled the school was not to blame for the teenager's death, Laura's parents are attempting to sue. Before the awards ceremony, Mr Griffiths said he hoped to win the teaching award as consolation for the school's "awful year".

Pontardawe-born Mr Griffiths, 58, first became interested in teaching through an influential uncle who ran Sunday school. "I became a teacher there myself at 14, although I was not a perfect little choirboy," he recalls.

After university, Alun "stumbled" into the profession as an English teacher. Cefn Saeson is the third Neath comprehensive he has worked in. He wanted it to be a place "where success is expected and celebrated".

Last year, the school gained its best-ever exam results and the premises now boast a new dining hall, performing arts studio, music room and all-weather sports pitch. Moreover, Cefn Saeson has a headteacher who leads from the front.

"Alun is the first among equals," says his deputy Peter Jones. "The passion and dedication he has for education is enormous. He is very people-centred and has worked hard to foster relationships between different groups."

When not coaching football, Alun can be found chatting to pupils, helping with DIY, driving the school minibus or making breakfast for students on a charity sleep-over. The school has received a host of accolades. The father-of-two says: "I see my role as educating children in the broadest sense."

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