Terrier for justice takes union helm

10th September 2004 at 01:00
The new president of the NAHT Cymru has a reputation for her campaigning style. George Wright reports

Pat Clarke is well known in Wrexham as a highly successful headteacher and tireless activist. She has, in the words of one associate, "a long list of grateful customers" who have benefited from her work with the National Association of Head Teachers over the past two decades.

One of her proudest achievements came last year, when she managed to persuade the local education authority to agree non-contact hours for heads at smaller schools - ending the "impossible" task of full-time teaching and managing.

Now, perhaps worryingly for the bureaucrats in Cardiff, this 55-year-old "terrier" (her own words) is bringing her tough, no-nonsense campaigning style to the national scene as the new president of NAHT Cymru. She takes over from current incumbent Chris Howard at the association's annual conference in Llangollen next week.

She laughs at the suggestion, from an LEA source, that she inspires "fear and respect in equal measure" during her negotiations. But, she concedes, she always puts up a tough fight.

"Sometimes you do have to fight for a cause, and I never go in unprepared," she says. "I will persevere. I never intentionally want to be a pain in anyone's backside - I have a Christian belief and background and don't want to hurt anyone, but I do say as I find.

"I also like to think I am open-minded, I am a listener as well as a speaker. I will try to see all sides, but if I believe there is an injustice then I am a bit like a terrier and I won't let it go."

Mrs Clarke plans to continue "saying it as I see it" in her new role as president. But she admits: "I will have to learn to be politically wiser, I suppose, but I will not be changing my style."

She qualified as a teacher in 1970 and worked in schools in Stoke, Staffordshire, before becoming deputy head of Wrexham's Overton primary school in 1982.

Four years later she moved to her current headship at the city's St Mary's primary, which has 175 pupils. She has a grown-up son and daughter, and two grandchildren.

As NAHT Cymru president, she aims to continue her fight against "unnecessary bureaucracy", and to continue to push for child-centred learning and more learning opportunities for teachers.

Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru, believes it is only a matter of time before Mrs Clarke emerges as a national figure in education. "She's certainly a feisty individual but she does it with immense charm. She is a very jolly character, always laughing.

"She's passionate about education. She knows her facts and figures, so when she calls the LEA it knows it won't be able to fob her off. She has a strong notion of justice and can't be swayed by fine words."

Merfyn Lloyd Jones, Wrexham's chief education officer, agrees: "She is very open about what she thinks - she doesn't mince her words and she's protective of heads.

"She has always been a pro-active member of the association, at the forefront of educational thinking. And I don't see that changing now that she has become president.

"Something which will be close to her heart will be fighting the corner of heads of smaller schools for more non-contact time. When it comes to pushing for something she believes in, you could say she is like a dog with a bone."

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