In praise of a great teacher

When my education came to a sudden, startling halt in 1966, I was hurt, confused, and scared. A terrific guy called Norman Ellis immediately took hold of me, made me captain of the Vale of Lune Colts, and filled me with renewed confidence, determination, and ambition. At the time, Norman was the Deputy Head of Ripley St. Thomas Church of England High School and over the next four years he encouraged me both in my personal life and on the sporting field. As far as I’m concerned, he is one of the world’s great teachers.

Over the past 5-6 years Norman and I renewed our friendship and he has attended many of my Lancaster Royal Grammar School visits. Unbeknown to me, he was also a good friend of my L.R.G.S. cricket coach, Doug Cameron, who was also one of those very special teachers.

A while ago I happily agreed to go back to Ripley St. Thomas and put a day aside to inspire the pupils and work on leadership skills with the current crop of teachers. Unfortunately, Norman wasn’t be able to join me (he now suffers from Alzheimer’s and has just moved into a special care home) but I felt his presence and I know it would have given him great pride and joy.

Ripley St. Thomas was founded through a bequest by a Lancastrian called Thomas Ripley who was born in 1790. Thomas made his fortune trading in China and the West Indies and became one of Lancaster’s first merchant princes. He died in August 1852 and left in his will an endowment for a school of similar character to the great Christ’s Hospital in London. His wife, Julia, oversaw the endowment and before she died in 1881, set up Ripley Hospital, an endowed school in the memory of her husband. It opened on November 3, 1864, and was originally endowed for 300 boys and girls who lived within 15 miles of Lancaster Priory and whose fathers had died. The original school included a gym, woodwork and metalwork rooms, a domestic school for girls, and enough full size football pitches to allow 150 boys to play at the same time. Talk about ahead of its time!

A farm of 40 acres kept the school supplied with home produce, meat, and poultry, and also served as a stimulus to teach the girls domestic science. Precedence was given to orphans, who received a practical education based on Christian principles. They were given special training in the trades and many scholars went on to become successful businessmen, journalists, teachers, nurses, social workers, and tradesmen. In 1966, Ripley Boys and St. Thomas Girls School amalgamated to become Ripley St. Thomas Church of England School. Today, 1,400 boys and girls are educated at the school, most of who go on to University.

I was fortunate enough to be the first speaker in the new 6th Form Center. In the morning, I spoke to 300 eager, keen, smiling, passionate students. They were interested, lively, and fun. Sophie, Mica, and April were shining lights. The afternoon was spent with Liz Nicholls, the Headteacher, John Cowper, who leads the business study program, and Ripley’s star-studded teacher leadership team. We worked together on Inspirational Leadership and talked through how we could continue to drive the school forward in a purposeful way.

I left after eight hours at the school, highly motivated and reassured that Lancaster, and indeed England’s future, is in good hands with teachers and pupils like those at Ripley St. Thomas. A positive day in a week when most of the news in the media remained pretty negative.

There is nothing quite so uplifting as spending time with committed inspirational teachers and positive, ambitious, bright pupils.

Thank you, Norman.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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