Michael Marland: Headteacher and educationalist

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The Independent Online

Michael Marland was one of the educational pioneers of the second half of the 20th century. He passionately believed that education was a leading force for social change. His practice as an English teacher in secondary schools, alongside his extensive journalism and publishing, made him an inspiration to a generation of teachers in the 1960s and 1970s. As head of two large London comprehensives, he will be remembered by fellow professionals for his contribution to inner-city education and his promotion of strong community relations.

Marland was born in 1935 and went to Christ's Hospital and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he read English and History. He was Head of English in the early 1960s at Abbey Wood School, in south-east London, moving to nearby Crown Woods in 1964. (After he left in 1971 as Director of Studies, he had to be asked back to explain the intricate details of the timetable he had created for 2,000 students.) He then led Woodberry Down School in north London through most of the 1970s, and was awarded a CBE in 1977 for services to education. In 1980 he was the founding headteacher of North Westminster Community School and was to reign there for the following two decades.

In his early career Marland was the embodiment of the boundary-pushing Inner London Education Authority teacher of the1960s and 1970s. Unconstrained by a national curriculum and prescribed books to read with students, as an English teacher he brought to his classrooms the work of contemporary writers such as Keith Waterhouse, Stan Barstow, Doris Lessing and Alan Sillitoe – and published editions of their work in Longman Imprint Books, which became the national examination texts of their day.

Subsequently he came to symbolise the free-thinking ILEA headteacher of the 1980s and 1990s. 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 his ideas into practice in the schools he led, and wrote about them in the Heinemann School Management series, which he edited for nearly 40 years and marketed unstintingly around the country.

Marland was a button-holer. He 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.

His most influential work was The Craft of the Classroom: a survival guide to classroom management in the secondary school. Published in 1975, with a third edition in 2002, 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 a "must read" for every teacher in training.

Marland became a sort of godfather among fellow headteachers, a status half assumed by him and readily granted 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 Marland exercised positive and benign influence on his colleagues. The political tendencies of Westminster City Council were as much anathema to Marland as they were to his fellow heads, but he recognised the need for rapport, and worked shrewdly with his new political masters to secure conciliation in the interests of schools and young people.

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. 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, Marland sat on committees and inquiries; he was a member of the Bullock Committee of Inquiry into Reading and the Use of English (1972–75); and founded the National Association for Pastoral Care in Education in 1982. He received several honorary awards from universities and from 1980 to 1992 was Honorary Professor of Education at Warwick.

He was also in demand internationally and spoke at conferences around the world, from the USA and South Africa to Europe and Australia. He was delighted to serve on the Commonwealth Institute Education Committee, and made a positive contribution to multi-cultural 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 the music of Benjamin Britten. Marland had an eclectic taste in music, literature and the arts, frequently developing enthusiasm in others for ballet, chamber music and architecture. His passion for the business of schools never waned, and long after retirement he would travel great distances to contribute to debate on the education of the young.

Roy Blatchford

Michael Marland, teacher and educationalist: born 28 December 1934; Head of English, Abbey Wood School, London 1961-64; Head of English, then Director of Studies, Crown Woods School, London 1964-71; Headmaster, Woodberry Down School, London 1971-79; General Editor, Heinemann School Management Series 1971-2008; CBE 1977; Chairman, Schools Council English Committee 1978-81; Founder Headteacher, North Westminster Community School 1980-99; Honorary Professor, Department of Education, Warwick University 1980-92; Chairman, National Association for Pastoral Care in Education 1982-86; Chairman, Royal Ballet Education Advisory Council 1983-2008; Chairman, Royal Opera House Educational Advisory Council 1984-85; Chairman, National Textbook Reference Library Steering Committee 1984-92; Honorary Fellow, Institute of Education 2002; three times married (four sons, one daughter, and one son deceased); died London 3 July 2008.

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