Joyce Skinner: Educationalist and resolute advocate for high standards in teacher training

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The Independent Online

Joyce Skinner, who has died aged 90, made a major contribution to the development of teacher education in the UK during the latter part of the 20th century.

In a world still largely led by men, she held a number of prestigious posts in which she stoutly defended high academic and professional standards in the preparation of teachers. Her commitment to education, the Church of England and the arts continued into a long, productive retirement.

Born in 1920 to working-class parents, Eva and Matthew (who are celebrated in a well-received account of her upbringing, Growing-Up Downhill, 1989), the gifted Joyce won a scholarship to Lincoln Christ's Hospital School, followed by a place at Somerville College, Oxford to read history. Teaching history at a number of girls' schools led, in 1952, to a Senior Lectureship at Homerton teacher training college in Cambridge. Later, as vice-principal, Skinner was ahead of her time in promoting the integration of academic rigour and practical relevance in teacher education.

In 1964, Skinner returned to Lincoln as principal of Bishop Grosseteste College. Her leadership and inclusive approach successfully steered the College through major expansion, confirming a co-educational future for the institution (founded in 1862 for women) and the awarding of the College's first degrees through the University of Nottingham. She also spent time in America, the Soviet Union and Kenya, sharing her expertise in developing teacher education. Skinner welcomed all of these opportunities to widen and deepen the professional preparation of teachers, on which so much in the future would depend. In the UK, the James Report (1972), to which Joyce had contributed, formally underlined the wisdom of close partnerships between practising teachers and teacher educators, which, for Joyce, entailed increased, not reduced, demands on the quality of the College's work.

In 1974, in an appointment reflecting her national standing, Skinner became director of the Cambridge Institute of Education and served on the county's Education Committee for six years. Between 1979 and 1984, she was the first – and is still the only – woman to be elected academic secretary of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET) and was a government nominee on the national advisory body for teacher training. She was awarded honorary fellowships of Hughes Hall, Cambridge and of the College of Preceptors; created CBE in 1975; and awarded an honorary doctorate by the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA).

From 1984, back in Lincoln, retirement allowed Skinner to pursue her life-long love of the arts, serving as vice-president of the Lincoln Society of Arts. She renewed her involvement with the Lincoln Diocese and with the Cathedral, a short walk from her home. Among many committee appointments, perhaps the most impressive was her chairing of the Diocesan Board of Mission and Unity, a body with a wide-ranging remit in an enormous diocese. She continued earlier work as Bishop's Inspector of theological and ordination training.

Unassuming and self-deprecating, Skinner nevertheless had a natural authority. She could be (quietly) trenchant, but was never unkind. She spoke and wrote economically, always to powerful effect: as one friend observed, "Joyce never wasted a word".

As a successor of Skinner's at Bishop Grosseteste, I came to enjoy her friendship and admire her sharp intellect and drily humorous observations. In 1997, at the College's degree congregation in her beloved Lincoln Cathedral, the University of Hull awarded Skinner the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters and the Old Students' Association commissioned a portrait which hangs in the Joyce Skinner Building. In 1998, Skinner was included in Lincolnshire Women (J R Ketteringham) a further acknowledgement of a life of remarkable distinction.

In recent years, Skinner lost much of her sight and hearing, a heavy blow for someone who found such sustenance in reading, paintings and music, but family and friends continued to be a source of joy and solace. Her achievements and the principles for which she worked in both Church and education will endure. She is survived by her nieces Faith, Sally and Elaine and nine great- and great-great nieces.

Joyce Skinner, educationalist: born Lincoln 5 September 1920; died 31 October 2010.

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