Carmarthenshire's education director retires to the land, reports Nerys Lloyd-Pierce
Early retirement has its attractions. As Alun Davies leaves his post as director of education for Carmarthenshire, aged just 54, he will be swapping the hour-long daily commute from his Penarth home for the freedom of European ski slopes, tennis matches and the serenity of his allotment.
Career-wise, he feels satisfaction at having had the vision to implement major changes in the region's education system. Thanks to him, Carmarthenshire schools are now undergoing a pound;110 million improvement programme over the next 10 years.
"When I took up my post in 2000 it was clear that many of the school buildings were unsuitable for the 21st century," he says. "I convinced the council that serious investment was required.
"Many heads in primary schools are also full-time teachers. I felt that the phenomenal workload involved was unjustifiable. Twenty new schools will now be built and these will be better staffed and equipped, relieving heads of some of the pressures."
These developments have come at a price, however, as a number of small schools have been axed.
Peter Rees, outgoing Carmarthenshire secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Cymru, feels that overall Mr Davies has been a good director of education. But he has misgivings about the availability of funding for his restructuring programme.
"I think his strategy had the best interests of teachers and pupils in mind. However, I'm not sure that the 10-year programme is realistic, as it will cost so much," says Mr Rees.
Ryan Bartlett, of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, and Moelwen Gwyndaf, general secretary of UCAC, the Welsh-medium teachers' union, agree that Mr Davies had an ability to listen and empathise.
"He was always fair and listened to what we had to say - not that we got our own way all the time - but he was extremely diplomatic," says Mr Bartlett.
Mr Davies was born in the Monmouthshire village of Llangybi, where he attended the local primary school. He went on to West Mon grammar school in Torfaen, then Leicester university, where he studied German and French.
His first post as a modern languages teacher took him to St Cyres comprehensive in Penarth, moving on to head of department at Barry boys school. In 1980 he moved into education administration, eventually becoming education director in the Vale of Glamorgan in 1995.
"I made my career move just as schools were being given more autonomy over budgets and the decision-making process, and it was exciting being in the midst of such changes," he says.
Although he loved teaching, Mr Davies thrived on the policy-making process, and he hopes to carry on playing a role in education. In the meantime, he has his sights firmly fixed on enjoying some chill-out time with his wife Janet, and their four children.