The man who wouldn't hide

SCHOOL violence was not new to Philip Lawrence, the London headmaster stabbed to death on Friday defending one of his pupils. He was attacked at his previous inner-city school, Dick Sheppard in Brixton, south London, where he was head five years ago.

But the attack at the tough comprehensive, since closed down because of its problems, did not deter him from the hard world of inner-city teaching. Mr Lawrence came from a privileged background - he was educated at Ampleforth, Britain's leading Roman Catholic public school. - but it was to underprivileged children that he came to devote his career.

The aspects of teaching that public-school masters can more or less forget about - reading, writing, numeracy, discipline, security of the buildings - were his everyday concerns, and those who knew him say that when he addressed them, he did so with conspicuous success. At St George's, Maida Vale, the Roman Catholic comprehensive where he met his death on Friday, he inherited serious disciplinary and academic problems. It was a school, said Cardinal Basil Hume yesterday, "which needed turning round".

Mr Lawrence turned it. He did so by initiatives as varied as padlocking gates and retraining specialist-subject teachers to teach basics such as reading. "We inherit an acute literacy problem when the children come at 11-plus,'' he said in an interview last year. "We are having to retrain mainstream teachers, of history, for example, to teach children to write at the same time. There is no point trying to teach complex aspects of the curriculum to pupils who have not even mastered the basics.''

He bought new padlocks to put on doors and gates, and kept a check on all visitors. "Parents expect that when they send their children to school they will be safe and secure, and the children learn best when they do feel safe and secure," he said.

Under the firm disciplinary regime he established, exam results shot up, and parents began competing to send their children to St George's, which has been very much an inner-city success story, with more than 200 pupils added to the roll under Mr Lawrence's tutelage.

His teaching career began in 1969 in more privileged surroundings, as an English master at St Benedict's school in Ealing, west London, run, like Ampleforth, by Benedictine monks.

He steadily progressed, however, to the state sector, through Gunnersbury school in Brentford, St Mark's School in Hounslow and then on to Dick Sheppard.

"Although he came from quite a privileged background, he always wanted to teach in the state sector and help children with few advantages," said Dennis Costello, who taught with Mr Lawrence at St Benedict's.

"He was the kind of person who would confront difficulties. He was not prepared to hide from them, and, sadly, that led to his death," said George Varnava, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, who worked alongside Mr Lawrence when both were south London heads.

"The problem with inner-city schools is that you spend so much time dealing with disciplining children that you can get diverted from teaching. Mr Lawrence tried to tackle both.

"At Dick Sheppard he was dealing with kids who had a high level of deprivation and were used to violence as part of their lifestyle. He was a tough man and there were aspects of him that derived from his own education, yet he was also quite visionary."

Winston Castello, the chairman of the Dick Sheppard board of governors, said: "He was not a Rambo character in any way, but I think he would have been very protective towards his pupils. He was not confrontational and he would always try to reason with people."

n Violence in schools has been rising in the Nineties, Nick Cohen writes. There have been no national figures since 1989, when Lord Elton carried out an inquiry and told the Government that two per cent of the country's 400,000 teachers had reported facing physical aggression. But it is known that expulsion of children from schools - in most cases for violent or disruptive behaviour - has rocketed. In 1990, 2,900 children were excluded; this year 14,000 are expected to be told to leave.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor