Propping up staff rights in Wales

31st March 2000 at 01:00
Dedicated to trade unionism and rugby, he is the heads' link to the Welsh Assembly. Biddy Passmore meets Alun Jones.

THERE are two essential facts to grasp about Alun Jones. The first is that he is a dedicated trade unionist; the second is that he is obsessed with rugby. Occasionally these passions conflict.

As director of the National Association of Head Teachers in Wales (NAHT Cymru, that is), Alun Jones has been in the thick of the debate about performance-related pay. He has felt teachers' anger at the Government's determination to link pay to results in Welsh as well as English schools.

But, on the day we met, he was if anything even more wound up about the Wales v Scotland match in Cardiff. Afterwards, he was relieved by Wales's convincing win, less thrilled by the hoo-ha over the true nationality of some of the Welsh players.

Although he is now a key figure to nearly 1,500 Welsh heads, Mr Jones has never been a headteacher himself. A former head of business studies, he was until last year Welsh regional officer for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (to which, confusingly, his headteacher wife Ann belongs).

His first foray into union politics was in the 1970s, when he "jumped up and down and made a noise" about the lack of social priority allowances for teachers at his school, St Ilan comprehensive in Caerphilly. He became secretary of the Rhymney branch of the NASUWT in 1975, an executive member in 1983 and regional secretary in 1986.

The ensuing 12 years of casework for 14,000 NASUWT members nearly killed him, he says. "I was burning the candle at both ends - I couldn't cope." His job was to become two - one officer focusing on policy, another on casework - but he feared he would not get the policy job because he is not fluent in Welsh. Hence the application to the NAHT.

There was only a slight hitch: he was booked to attend a Dubai rugby tournament. He told them he couldn't attend the job interview (a chap has his priorities). He returned to find the interviews had been rescheduled.

Now he is the association's linkman to the Welsh Assembly and the media, drafting policy responses to one and feeding stories to the other. He is to be found of a Wednesday morning at the Assembly's education committee, listening hard.

If Rosemary Butler, the Assembly Education Secretary, notices him frowning, she wants to know why. In the afternoons, he visits branch offices and does all he can to boost recruitment. After a long period of static membership, he says the Green Pape on pay has produced a sudden surge in applications: 60 in one day recently.

A prime mover in the pro-

devolution Yes to Wales campaign, Mr Jones says he has found the first nine months of the Welsh Assembly's life "very depressing".

"The Assembly's education committee is not in control," he says, "They never decide anything - they're always waiting to see what Blunkett and the DFEE say." He would like to see the Assembly given the right to pass primary legislation.

He laments the "bloody shambles" over the setting up of a General Teaching Council for Wales, due to start work on September 1, but with appointments way behind schedule.

As for pay, heads in Wales will play their part in the new assessment arrangements for teachers to pass the pound;2,000 threshold, but he says they will be doing it in a "depressed and repressed state". Heads and deputies in Wales are always bumping along at or near the bottom of the pay-scale ranges, he points out, and many Welsh education authorities are planning to keep them there next year. He thinks most heads are "still in ostrich mode" about the coming burden of assessment.

His maternal grandfather was a Yorkshire miner who went to South Wales to find work; his father's family were miners in the Rhondda. His father, the only son to escape the pit and go to university, became a lecturer in maths and science in Castleford, Yorkshire.

That is where Alun grew up - hence his Yorkshire accent. He and his identical twin brother Gareth took ONDs in business studies at their father's college. Alun then went to Swansea teacher-training college and, playing the twin card, even turned up for some of his brother's courses in business studies.

Although Gareth now works as a civil servant in south-east England, the two are still very close. Alun describes the night when his brother was caught up in the Kegworth air disaster - the only survivor to crawl out unaided - as "the worst night of my life".

The pair, known as "The Ponty twins", are a common sight at rugby matches all over Europe, and in Dubai.

Alun Jones contemplates the coming of spring with mixed feelings. Ever since he stopped jet-skiing two years ago (he twice came in the top 10 in the British championships) he has found it hard to know what to do in the summer. He has a small swimming pool at home in Pontypridd, but he finds time hangs heavy without a rugby game to go to every week.

And his greatest ambition? To see Wales beat New Zealand. He was three when that last happened. Last week, he was 50.

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