Passionate head who gave rugby the boot

14th August 2009 at 01:00
After 33 years in the profession, Goff Davies says he has no regrets about choosing to become a teacher rather than a sportsman

In the mid-1980s Goff Davies faced a tough choice between his two big passions in life - rugby and teaching.

The former winger, who had played 300 games for Pontypool RFC in the club's golden era of the 1970s, was juggling rugby coaching duties with his first senior leadership role as deputy head of Blackwood Comprehensive in Caerphilly.

But now, as he retires as head of Hartridge Comprehensive in Newport after a 33-year teaching career, Mr Davies has no regrets about the path he chose.

"I decided to continue teaching and I have never regretted that," he said. "My heart and soul has always been in education."

Ironically, it was Mr Davies's teaching career that both launched and ended his rugby career.

During his first job teaching history at Llantarnam Comprehensive in Cwmbran in the mid-1970s, Mr Davies was inspired to take his passion for rugby to the next level by sports teacher Terry Cobner.

Mr Cobner, who went on to become a Wales and British Lions player, encouraged a reluctant Mr Davies to try out for his hometown club, Pontypool.

The young winger soon became a regular first-team player alongside greats such as the Pontypool front row of Graham Price, Bobby Windsor and Charlie Faulkner.

As his teaching career progressed, he stepped down from first team action to focus on coaching, but soon found it a struggle to meet the demands of both careers, particularly as rugby was still an amateur game.

Mr Davies said: "I was coaching mid-week while trying to do my marking in the meantime. It was hectic."

After leaving rugby behind, he was given his first headship in 1993 at Trevethin Comprehensive in Pontypool, a small community school with a poor reputation. In his three years at the 11-16 school, Mr Davies and his staff managed to improve the comprehensive's image and increase pupil numbers from 300 to more than 500.

Mr Davies said he enjoyed his time at Trevethin, which recently closed, but by 1996 he was seeking bigger challenges and became head of Hartridge, a 1,000-pupil 11-18 school in Newport.

He decided to use his passion for sport to try to turn around the school's fortunes.

"When I started, I had a one-to-one with every member of staff about what they thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the school," he said. "The school had always produced outstanding natural sportsmen and I felt that developing sport was an obvious way forward."

The launch of a sports academy transformed Hartridge into a leading light for post-16 sport in Wales, with successful football, cricket and rugby teams.

Now, as he leaves after 13 years in charge, Mr Davies is proud of what he and his staff have achieved.

"I would like to think that you would not find a more caring school with more caring staff anywhere in Wales," he said.

"We try to look at each individual child and try to fulfil his or her potential - that's our greatest strength. I'm going to miss the children and the staff, but I'm certainly not going to miss the bureaucracy. Funding is tight and schools are being squeezed."

Mr Davies, 55, leaves knowing his successor will eventually be teaching in a new Pounds 32.5 million school building, construction of which is scheduled to begin next year after protracted delays.

But despite regrets that the school building was not completed on time, Mr Davies is happy to stand down.

"I felt the time was right for me to leave," he said. "The council can use the plans for the new school to get a young, ambitious replacement."

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