In the news - Andy Brown

17th September 2010 at 01:00

Andy is head of drama and theatre studies at Ballymena Academy in County Antrim and has taught at the school since 1993. But instead of returning to the classroom this September he entered a new role as president of teaching union ATL. At 40, he is the youngest person to head the 160,000-strong association. The TES caught up with him just after he collected his children from their first day back at school.

New kid on the block? "I wanted to be president, but I didn't have the ambition to be the youngest president of ATL. I'm very proud - it's either a blessing or a curse - but I started all this when I was young. It began when the school rep role was passed on to me - it was from my sister so I couldn't say no, could I? I have always been a social activist; it's about the little man against the big man."

How's your work-life balance? "Don't make me laugh - that's what trade unions are good at fighting for. My wife's a busy teacher, too, so I like to be hands-on when I'm at home and I try hard to enjoy the family when I can. I spend a lot of time away from them, but I think it's a good lesson for the kids to experience a dad who is doing something to do with social justice."

But there must be some perks of the new job? "I'm looking forward to getting into our 164 branches, finding issues locally and feeding them back into national policy. You can step across different local education authorities and there will be a big difference in issues, whether it is funding, aspirations or poverty. We all deal with things on a macro level but I want to know the issues on a micro level. I'm also excited to be more involved in the cut and thrust in Westminster. I pride ATL as a proactive, not reactive, organisation."

What will be your biggest issue, then? "I think the biggest one is the overzealousness in the Coalition to move things in their direction too fast. Academies and free schools would be an obvious thing to talk about. The Government is trying to do a lot quickly. I think the Secretary of State believes he is doing the right thing; he wants teachers to feel free, but you don't do this by giving freedom to schools. We want freedom for teachers at the chalk face."

Do you have any tips for the Coalition? "Ministers need to listen, and they need to learn. There is an awful lot of media and stuff there they haven't followed through. They are not taking the advice of professionals and have therefore failed. What's that saying they say? 'Less haste, more speed'?"

How do you slow down? "I read voraciously. I also love music, I played trumpet to grade 8 but I'm the least musical in my family."

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