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Kay Burley: 'It's thanks to Mrs Turner that I became a journalist'

The Sky News presenter remembers the English literature teacher who encouraged her to quit her A levels and follow her dreams

Kay Burley

The Sky News presenter remembers the English literature teacher who encouraged her to quit her A levels and follow her dreams

Until the age of 11, I attended Beech Hill Primary in the suburbs of Wigan. After that I, unfortunately, got caught up in the Labour government’s middle school experiment when I moved to Gidlow Middle School.

When I arrived, the school wasn’t finished and resembled a building site. Furthermore, there seemed to be little structure or sense of direction, with teachers unsure what the syllabus was – to be honest, it was a complete waste of two years of my education.

I finished my formal schooling at Whitley High School, leaving after my first year of A levels, aged 17, to work as a cub reporter for the Wigan Evening Post and Chronicle.

I loved my time at Whitley although the journey to school could be rather arduous at times because it was quite a distance from home in Beech Hill. Sometimes I’d catch the bus but frequently it wouldn’t turn up so I had to endure the 45-minute walk in all weathers.

I regarded myself as really quite clever – mind you, I don’t know what happened! My favourite lesson was English literature and from a young age I had an insatiable appetite for books and plays.

It’s at Whitley High that I met Mrs Turner, my favourite teacher of all time. She was spectacular and I adored her. Sometimes, you come across a teacher with whom you just click and that was Mrs Turner, who must have been in her thirties. Whatever book or play we studied in class, she had the ability to bring the text or dialogue alive.

I’ll never forget studying Hamlet. I couldn’t get enough of it, largely due to the way she immersed herself into the text and took everyone in the class with her. Even now, I still have a love affair with Shakespeare’s work and that’s a direct result of Mrs Turner’s teaching.

She was a short, blonde-haired lady and very comfortable in her own skin. Although very quiet and calm in her delivery, you sensed her presence as soon as she walked in the room. She’d always say: “Good things come in small packages.”

Mrs Turner was approachable and whatever I wanted to ask, I knew I could talk to her. In class, we’d have scintillating conversations about Shakespearean texts, particularly Macbeth. I got to know that play so well, she’d quote lines and I’d be able to finish the soliloquy; 40 years later, that play still resonates with me.

She explained every line to the class and if you weren’t sure, she’d never make you feel a fool or embarrassed, she’d spend time going over and over until everyone understood. One of her greatest attributes was being so passionate about her subject that she could convey that to her students. She commanded the classroom so discipline was never a problem. She respected students and, as a result, respect was shown towards her.

Back then, O-level results were pinned on a board at school for everyone to see rather than each student receiving their own personal envelope. I’ll never forget the day I went along to Whitley High to see my results. I ran my finger down the list nervously to find my name and was overjoyed to discover I’d got an ‘A’ in English Lit. What I didn’t know is that Mrs Turner was standing behind and she gave me a big hug. I remember that as if it were yesterday.

She encouraged me to write short stories, which I enjoyed because I loved writing. In time, I became a journalist and believe that was because of Mrs Turner’s input: she played a huge role in the direction I took, career-wise.

One day, I was sat in the school canteen when she came along and asked what I wanted to do with my life. I’d just finished work experience at the local paper and was considering quitting A levels to take a job as a junior reporter. Other teachers wanted me to finish my A levels and go on to university, but she said: “You should follow your dreams!” So I did.

Sadly, I didn’t keep in touch with her after leaving education but often wonder what she’s doing now – hopefully, relaxing and enjoying her retirement.


Born: 17 December 1960, Wigan, Lancashire

Education: Beech Hill Primary School, Beech Hill; Gidlow Middle School, Wigan and Whitley High School, Wigan

Career: Journalist and newsreader Kay Burley, who learned her trade in local papers and radio, has been a news anchor for Sky News since 1988. Kay presents Sky News, 3-6.30pm, weekdays.

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