My best teacher

Both my parents were teachers and education was central to their lives. My father was headteacher at the primary school I attended in Knaphill, Woking, and I was intimidated by the ambition placed upon me to do well. I was expected to sail through the ll-plus as my sister had done - but I was dyslexic and struggled in class.

I liked all my teachers, especially Mrs Hockley, who taught me when I was about eight. She was small with sharp features and quite scary. She was very strict, but fair, and had real authority. She really cared about the children in her class and she encouraged me.

Another teacher at that school who I really liked was Barry Turner. He and his brother, Peter (who was also a teacher, but at another school) both had charisma and a huge sense of fun. Barry taught with real elan and wit and later he became a great friend of mine, and of my dad.

All the time the spectre of the 11-plus, which everyone expected me to pass, was hovering over me. People went on and on about it. On the day of the exam I asked my father for some kind of talisman to hold and he gave me his pen. It was all very emotional. I went into the examination room and glazed over completely. I thought I could recover the situation in the afternoon but when I went home for lunch I was greeted by my mother in tears and my father looking distressed. They'd seen my papers - I was obviously dead by lunchtime.

If I'd passed I would have gone to Woking Grammar School. Having failed the exam, standing on my egalitarian instincts and against my father's wishes, I insisted on going to the local secondary modern school. It turned out to be the school from hell.

The headteacher, a man called Barnes, flounced around in his Oxford gown and tried to run the place like a virtual public school. But we learned nothing. There was lots of corporal punishment. We were streamed, and some of those in the A stream could quite comfortably have got into university, but it was never considered. I can remember being taken on a school trip to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and being told, as we watched men tooling away: "If you pass all your O-levels this could be your future." I decided to fail my exams.

I did pass one O-level, though - geography, which was taught by Mrs Sharpe. She was another teacher who showed enormous faith in me and took the trouble to explain things.

Tom Lee, the history teacher known as the Friday Flogger, tried to persuade me to stay on but I was anxious to leave. I went to Farnborough Technical College for a bit and, after a while travelling around the country on demonstrations and going to rock concerts, I got involved with Community Service Volunteers and took four A-levels at East London College. That got me into Sussex University to study politics, and eventually to the LSE, where I met Michael Oakeshott and discovered I had some capacity for academic work after all. Suddenly I could read Hegel and understand it. Oakeshott had a fantastic brain and was an inspirational tutor.

I went into advertising and, after ten years, to the London Business School, where I met the most influential teacher I'd ever had, Professor Charles Handy. He was absolutely seminal in giving me the confidence to move from the world of advertising to the world of politics. I became a political consultant, worked with Neil Kinnock and then Tony Blair and, at a low level, was involved in both Clinton campaigns.

Philip Gould,47, is a senior adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair. He joined the Labour party at 15 and canvassed for Harold Wilson in the 1966 General Election. He now runs a strategic and political consultancy advising left-of-centre parties around the world. He has been a school governor in London, where he lives with his wife, the publisher Gail Roebuck, and two children. His book, 'The Unfinished Revolution - how the modernisers saved the Labour party', was published last month. He was talking to Pamela Coleman

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