Obituary:John Haycraft

Tony Duff
Tuesday 28 May 1996 00:02 BST

John Haycraft was an inspiring teacher and animateur of people. With his wife, Brita, in 1953 he founded the International House World Organisation, which more than any other single private institution has shaped the evolution of the profession of English language teaching (ELT).

A pioneer, he was an early advocate of the wider context of learning outside the classroom by bringing people together in social and dramatic contexts. For him language learning and teaching were about communication, theatre, and understanding between people.

Haycraft was born in 1926. His early life was spent travelling in Europe with his mother and his brother, Colin (the publisher), following the violent death of his father whilst serving the 5/8 Punjab Regiment in 1929 when he and Colin were both still very young children. Olive, his mother, supported her family on a small army pension and worked as a tennis player.

This unconventional early background of travel in France and Italy was to prove a formative influence on John Haycraft. He developed an early interest in other countries, cultures and people. He was educated at Wellington, in Berkshire, where despite his distaste for rigid structures and for anyone who sought to crush individual spirit he early on showed his natural leadership qualities and became head boy.

For just under three years, Haycraft was in the Army, and spent 1947 - the last year of the Raj - in India, an echo of the career of the father he had never known. In 1948 he went up to Oxford to read History, which remained a lifelong interest and culminated in his book In Search of the French Revolution (1989).

With no certain plans other than a sense of wanting to write, as has happened to so many who make a career in English language teaching Haycraft came to it almost accidentally. After a postgraduate course at Yale, he was guiding tourists around Toledo and teaching students privately. Following their marriage in 1953, Haycraft and his Swedish wife Brita set off for southern Spain - which he saw as "a dramatic environment" - and started the first International House school, in Crdoba. They spent six years there, teaching and writing, a period he described in his well-received autobiographical book Babel in Spain (1965), although the Franco regime received it by declaring him persona non grata.

Returning to London in 1959, working collaboratively with his wife, Haycraft developed his two big ideas: raising the standards of the teaching of English through an affiliated network of schools around the world and the practical training of teachers for the classroom. At that time, training for English language teaching, expecially of a practical kind, was virtually non-existent. The Haycrafts had the idea of setting up short, intensive teacher-training courses to prepare people to face multi-lingual classes with confidence and skill.

They were early exemplars of the idea of being a reflective practitioner, that is by thinking about and reflecting upon their own work in the classroom they extrapolated the essence of what was effective with foreign learners of English and presented this knowledge and experience on the teacher- training course. This original course became the blueprint for the Royal Society of Arts/Cambridge University Local Examinations Syndicate qualifications in the teaching of English as a foreign language to adults.

In a period of almost 35 years, more than 30,000 people have taken this course and have experienced it as one of the most powerful educational experiences of their life. It has been the primary influence on most of the key figures in ELT today; one could even say that Haycraft invented the modern profession of ELT teacher trainer.

Haycraft's second big idea was that standards could most effectively be raised by sending the teachers trained in London to schools around the world which espoused his educational standards and ideals. That first school in Crdoba was the seed of more than 100 international schools in 20 countries, a truly international community that expressed John Haycraft's spirit.

The final flowering of his taste for starting new things and his inclination for moving across boundaries - often in difficult circumstances - was in his collaboration, after his retirement from International House in 1990, with the financier George Soros to establish schools in Central and Eastern Europe, a project characteristic of Haycraft's sense of new priorities and selfless generosity. John Haycraft was not among those who retire.

While so significantly influencing the development of English language teaching, Haycraft pursued a parallel career as a writer, which he regarded as his vocation. His books show the same interest in people, the eye for colour and drama in everyday life, the impatience with bureaucracy and with pettiness as he expressed in his International House life.

Tony Duff

John Stacpoole Haycraft, educationist and writer: born 11 December 1926; Founder and Director, International House 1964-90, Director General 1975- 90; CBE 1982; Director, Soros English Language Programme 1991-94; married 1953 Brita Langenfelt (two sons, one daughter); died London 23 May 1996.

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