New adviser with ear of ministers

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Professor David Egan sets forth his main objectives to Philippa White.

Professor David Egan has a son who is a builder and a daughter who is a university academic - and as the new special adviser on education to the Welsh Assembly, he is aware of the different educational routes needed for teenagers.

While his daughter, Kate, flourished in school his son, Owen, lost interest, left, and eventually completed an apprenticeship.

"I feel strongly about the 14-19 agenda because that's precisely what Owen needed - a different approach to education which wouldn't push him into academic disciplines," he said.

The debate on providing a broader 14-19 curriculum, including expansion of the Welsh Baccalaureate, is one of many issues he will encounter in his new role.

Others include school funding, the early-years foundation phase, and university funding, fees and access.

But personal experience is not the only asset he brings. Education experts describe Professor Egan as politically astute and usefully involved in multiple networks, although some warn his strong views have led to significant personality clashes.

Mal Davies, head of Willows high school in Cardiff and chair of the General Teaching Council for Wales, said: "He's a man with a passion for education.

He is in the field, in close contact with teachers, bringing the here and now into the heart of government."

Professor Egan, 56, was born in Pontypridd to a family of miners and teachers, and studied history and politics at the University of Wales Swansea.

After six years of historical research into the South Wales coal fields, he "drifted" into school teaching when he was 28, and loved it. He was one of the last generation of graduates to teach without a postgraduate certificate in education, and taught history and politics at Treorchy comprehensive in Mid Glamorgan before becoming head of history at Mountain Ash comprehensive in the Cynon Valley.

In 1989 he moved into teacher training at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff (UWIC), becoming head of the school of education for eight years.

Since 2001, he has researched and evaluated Welsh education policy and the impact of devolution, for which he campaigned both locally and nationally.

As a special adviser, seconded four days a week from UWIC, Professor Egan intends to support an educational distinctiveness that reflects Welsh cultural identity.

"I've always believed, like most in education, that what England does, Wales would follow," he said. "So the ability to support a distinct agenda within the values of the Westminster Labour government really interests me."

He supports the Assembly's decision to stick with "bog-standard comprehensives" instead of specialist schools and academies, its decision to abolish national tests at 11 and 14, its increasing international awareness, and teachers' easy access to continuing professional development.

Recently married to Jayne, a drama lecturer at UWIC, Professor Egan lives in Pontypridd and has two stepsons in Welsh-medium schools. The Assembly government declined to say how much he earns, but the post was advertised with a full-time salary range of pound;36,348 to pound;48,456.

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