Union chief's hazy helpers

6th February 2004 at 00:00
The new Welsh director of the NAHT is looking to her own school days for inspiration. Adi Bloom reports

When Anna Brychan remembers her school days, it is through a haze of pipe smoke.

"I used to wander around Aberystwyth in my school uniform, puffing on a pipe," the 36-year-old said. "My father smoked one, so it was cheaper to steal his tobacco than to buy cigarettes. I tried to put on an intellectual air but I was very small, so I don't think I quite carried it off."

Still petite, if now able to afford her own cigarettes, Ms Brychan has been spending a lot of time thinking back to her school days.

This month, she was appointed Welsh director of the National Association of Head Teachers. And it is her own experiences that she now turns to when considering education issues in Wales, such as the difficulties that arise during the transition between primary and secondary school.

"I remember the move between schools being a scary experience. Where I come from, children go to small primaries where they know everyone well.

Suddenly you find yourself going to school on a bus with lots of strange people. You can find yourself disorientated for a long time."

Such memories are a natural touchstone for Ms Brychan. She has no classroom experience herself, despite three teacher grandparents and a lecturer father.

Instead, her career began with an abortive attempt at a PhD in German literature. "My mistake was to write about an author who was still living.

"Each time I thought I was getting somewhere, he'd go and write another book."

This was followed by a short-lived stint selling the "golf butler", a gadget for fishing golf balls out of shallow ponds. From this came a job with a marketing company which led, eventually, to a position as communications director for Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party.

Here, Ms Brychan worked with Karl Davies, one-time chief executive, who went on to become Welsh director of the NAHT. And it was Mr Davies who suggested that her marketing experience and media savvy would make her a suitable candidate for the job.

In the past, the NAHT commitment to devolution has involved criticising the Welsh Assembly for refusing to go far enough in its pursuit of a Welsh education policy - an agenda not entirely alien to Plaid Cymru members.

But Ms Brychan, a fluent Welsh speaker, insists the politician can be separated from her politics: "I don't see devolving teachers' pay and conditions to the Assembly as a sensible route."

Nonetheless, she adds: "I'm aware that there are people who think Welsh-language teaching is irrelevant and that the shortage of teachers is a difficulty.

"But maths, physics and modern languages share the same problems. The effort to create a bilingual Wales must necessarily involve all pupils in Wales."

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