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Tough new president of the Secondary Heads Association is ready to take on Charles Clarke. Emily Clark reports.

A strict Scottish Presbyterian upbringing and 30 years' teaching experience has made Anne Welsh a force to be reckoned with.

The new president of the Secondary Heads Association is a straight-talking and strongly principled mother-of-two who is not prepared to put up with any nonsense from the Government.

Mrs Welsh said: "Scottish people have a tendency to be direct. We need to be honest; there is no point pussy-footing around to soften the blow. The Government does not actually understand what the implications of its policies are in schools. Our job is to tell them."

Mrs Welsh's commitment to education is absolute, unshaken by the thrashings she remembers enduring at school for talking during her maths lessons. And her Scottish spirit permeates her work. She has set up ceilidh bands in her previous schools and she frequently organises hiking trips to the countryside for pupils.

"I am passionate about education," said Mrs Welsh, who has been head of George Stephenson high on the outskirts of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for seven years. "Teaching and leading a school is a very humbling experience, because children never cease to amaze. We must always be learning from and listening to them.

"The Scottish Presbyterian work ethic is about working hard, making the most of every single opportunity and being positive."

She wants the Government to show greater respect and trust of teachers to restore their confidence after the funding crisis, a point on which she challenged Education Secretary Charles Clarke at this year's SHA conference. She would like to see the extended school model developed and less attention given to league tables.

"So many school leaders have lost confidence in the Government," she said.

"We are professionals and we know what we are doing and should be trusted more.

"I also get very angry about disadvantaged children who do not have the support they need."

Mrs Welsh spent two years addressing this need in Castlebrae high in one of Edinburgh's poorest suburbs. She then went on to teach in Cambridgeshire, Morpeth, and at a borstal in St Ives. She was deputy head of Whitley Bay high in North Tyneside for 12 years and became the area's branch secretary of the SHA. In 1996 she accepted the headship of George Stephenson.

Bill Temple is chair of governors at George Stephenson and has known Mrs Welsh since his two sons joined Whitley Bay high 12 years ago. "She has a knack of getting the best out of people," he said. "She is strong-willed and knows what she wants but also listens to what you have to say, which is why George Stephenson is a good school today.

"She will give the Government a run for their money."

* Judith Rowley is the new president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. She joined the union 35 years ago believing that the ATL encourages independence of thought. Mrs Rowley, seconded from Lochinvar comprehensive, Carlisle, said she will campaign for better training of high-level assistants, fewer bureaucratic tasks and more time for teachers to liaise with support staff. The ATL represents 160,000 staff in the UK.

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