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|A Tribute to Michael Marland
Headteacher and Educationalist
by Roy Blatchford
Click here for a print version of this article.
Michael Marland, who has died aged 73, was a memorable teacher to his students and one of the defining educational pioneers of the second half of the twentieth century. His interests and priorities both shaped and mirrored the emerging orthodoxies of his era.
He was a passionate believer that education was a major force for social change and enlightenment. His practice as an English teacher in secondary schools, matched by his extensive journalism and publishing, inspired a generation of English teachers in the 1960s and 1970s. As headteacher of two large London comprehensives, his significant contribution to inner-city education with all its complexities, and his passionate promotion of strong community relations will be how fellow professionals will remember him.
Michael was a button-holer who sported flamboyant bow-ties. He engaged and led with the tenacity of an ancient mariner and bombarded those he met with proclamations, theories, insights and revelations. The unwary who ventured reservations were overwhelmed with research and footnotes called up at will. Newspaper cuttings from various eras would be pulled out of his wallet to prove a point.
Educated at Christ’s Hospital School and Cambridge, Marland seemed destined to become one the Inner London Education Authority’s (ILEA) great educators. From Head of English at Abbey Wood School in the early 1960s he moved to Crown Woods in 1964. When he left there in 1971 as Director of Studies, folklore has it that he had to be invited back to explain the intricate details of the timetable he had created for 2000 students. He led Woodberry Down School through most of the 1970s, and was awarded a CBE in 1977 for services to education. In the vanguard of community education, he founded North Westminster Community School in 1980 and was to reign there for the following two decades.
In many ways Michael Marland was, first, the embodiment of the boundary-pushing ILEA teacher of the1960s and 1970s, and subsequently a symbol of the free-thinking ILEA headteacher of the 1980s and 1990s. Unconstrained by a national curriculum and prescribed texts to read with students, Marland as English teacher brought to his classrooms the contemporary work of Keith Waterhouse, Stan Barstow, Doris Lessing and Alan Sillitoe - and promptly published them in the Longman Imprints collections which became the national examination texts of their day.
As headteacher he embraced with characteristic energy the values and political imperatives of the Inner London scene - multi-cultural policies, provision for linguistic diversity, the promotion of effective pastoral care. He put these into practice in the schools he led, and at once wrote about them in the Heinemann Organization in Schools series he edited and marketed unstintingly around the country. His signature bow-tie popped up at courses and conferences far and wide, and thus his influence on education reached far beyond the schools where he taught.
His most influential work was ‘The Craft of the Classroom: A Survival Guide to Classroom Management in the Secondary School’. First published in 1975 this slim volume reveals Marland’s cocktail for a good teacher – ‘a spirit compounded of the salesman, the music-hall performer, the parent, the clown, the intellectual, the lover and the organiser’ – and remains to this day a ‘must read’ for every teacher in training.
It was ordained that he would be a godfather among fellow headteachers, a status half assumed by him and readily granted, as his due, by his peers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s as officers struggled to establish the new Westminster Education Authority from the ashes of the ILEA, in the face of deep suspicion and open hostility, Michael’s positive and benign influence was exercised on his colleagues. The political tendencies of Westminster City Council were as much anathema to Marland as they were to many of his fellow heads. But he recognised and accepted the need for rapport, and worked hard and shrewdly with new political masters to secure conciliation in the interests of schools and the young people they served.
Marland fervently wanted things to work and had little patience with anyone who stood in the way. He risked significant overspends in his budgets, reminding colleagues that children only get one chance to be in school. He was fond of saying that change was everywhere and we had to change to meet it. Towards the end of his time at North Westminster School, his great domain, sprawling over three sites, was diminished somewhat by developments largely beyond his control. What had once been a flagship comprehensive, lauded by national and international visitors alike, fell out of favour as a new climate of hard-nosed inspection, targets and unflinching accountability emerged from the Blair government.
Throughout his career he was in constant demand on local, national and international committees and enquiries into educational issues, notably a member of the Bullock Committee on Language (1972 – 75). Another of his major initiatives was the foundation of the National Association for Pastoral Care in Education (1982), and a number of honorary awards from universities came his way.
Marland was a committed internationalist who rarely travelled other than to work, and was in demand as a speaker across the globe from the USA and South Africa to mainland Europe and Australia. He was delighted to serve on the Commonwealth Institute Education Committee from the early 1980s, and made a positive contribution to multi-cultural life and understanding as part of Westminster Arts Council and as Vice-Chair of the City of Westminster Race Equality Council.
Those who collaborated with Marland on his extraordinary number of diverse writing projects knew that he retreated from Islington to a beloved corner of Suffolk during his holiday periods, there to write, enjoy the company of his family and steep himself in his love for the composer Benjamin Britten. Marland had an eclectic taste in music, literature and the arts, frequently developing previously untapped enthusiasm in others for ballet, chamber music and architecture. In 1999 he became Patron of the Rabindranath Tagore Foundation.
Marland’s yearning and passion for the business of schools and education never waned. Long after reluctant retirement he would travel the longest road to be wherever the education of the young was up for debate. You can’t help believing that long after such spirits are extinguished, their echo lingers on.
Michael Marland died London, 3 July 2008.
Roy Blatchford is the Founding Director of NET
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