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Class act of '85

Chief inspector David Bell is still inspired by the pupils he taught aged 26. But is the feeling mutual? Michael Shaw reports.

A visitor to Powers Hall junior school 18 years ago might have thought that class 3F was just an average group of nine-year-olds.

But for David Bell, HM chief inspector of schools, they were the children who transformed his view of education and influenced his pronouncements on the state of schools today.

In an article in today's TES Friday magazine, he describes how the pupils'

work continues to inspire him.

The class was the first he taught when he became deputy head at Powers Hall in Witham, Essex, in 1985 at the age of only 26.

"Somehow the chemistry was right between us," he said. "They taught me the values of creativity and a broad curriculum - values I still strongly hold."

So, was the experience equally memorable for the 38 children in the class? Was Mr Bell's teaching excellent or was it just satisfactory - a standard he no longer believes is good enough? Now aged 28, the former members of 3F have gone on to careers in a range of areas including medicine, business consultancy and education.

One works with the Teacher Training Agency while another spent last year with New Zealand's qualifications authority. All of those who spoke to The TES remembered the tall Scottish teacher, who sported a moustache and an oversized pair of glasses and had a passion for Double Decker chocolate bars.

Many recalled the more unusual lessons he taught, which included trips to graveyards and a visit to the department store Debenhams, which attracted complaints from a parent-governor who believed Mr Bell wanted an excuse to go Christmas shopping.

Laura Woodhouse, who now co-ordinates training for Suzuki dealers, said the class had been baffled to see Mr Bell park his Citroen 2CV in the middle of the playground one morning.

"We were all wondering what he was doing and it turned out it was part of the maths week he'd organised," she said.

"He asked us to measure his car and I remember us all clambering in and out of it."

Other pupils remembered the "Everlasting Fruits company" that he helped them set up which produced pottery fruit to sell to parents and friends.

Mr Bell's campaign to introduce girls' football also increased his popularity and attracted local press coverage.

Among the girls who eagerly took up the sport was Lucy Roche, now a paediatrician in Newcastle.

"We'd had supply teachers for several years, so we were very far behind - I didn't think I would pass the 11-plus," Dr Roche said. "Then Mr Bell arrived. It made a massive difference to all of us and I wouldn't have qualified as a doctor without him."

Mr Bell received a visit at his Office for Standards in Education this week from two of his former students, Helen Seaward and Karen Wickenden, who brought him the class's traditional gift of Double Decker bars.

Helen, who works as an events manager in London, said Mr Bell had only raised his voice at a student on one occasion and that the class had cheered when he revealed he would teach them for a second year.

"The only thing I didn't enjoy was the way he would sometimes make us write surprise essays," she said. "And he would test us on our times tables first thing in the morning, going round the class pointing his ruler at us."

Mr Bell still has a book of limericks Helen wrote about him, which included the lines: "There was a young teacher called Bell Who covered his hair with gel".

He said he was glad he had abandoned his old haircut and glasses but still missed lessons with 3F. "That class was a joy to teach," he said. "Besides, they shaped my thinking."

Friday magazine 7

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