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Obituary - Bryan Nicholson, 1933-2012

Bryan Nicholson was one of the pioneers of technology in schools. Working with other design and technology teachers, he helped to move the subject from the handicraft peripheries to the mainstream of the national curriculum.

He was born in North London in October 1933. Rejecting the family bookbinding business, teenage Bryan began an engineering apprenticeship. However, he had long been inspired by a teacher uncle and so, in 1960, he enrolled in teacher training college.

His first position was as metalwork teacher at St Audrey's secondary, in the Hertfordshire town of Hatfield. From the start, he was meticulously organised and his lessons were carefully planned. But they were also fun: he taught pupils to assemble and then race go-karts. When Mr Nicholson smiled, his entire face lit up, wrinkles appearing around his eyes.

After several years as head of department at St Audrey's, he was appointed as Hertfordshire's first advisory teacher for craft, design and technology, later moving on to a similar role in the London borough of Hillingdon.

At the time, few design and technology teachers had degrees. But Mr Nicholson was keen to rectify what he saw as a gap in his own education. And so he enrolled on a sociology course at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield.

The influence of social background on people's lives fascinated him: he was a committed egalitarian. When, for example, he heard that a young colleague was being paid less than his due as head of department, Mr Nicholson campaigned for his pay rise. At one point he stood for election as Labour councillor, but his Buckinghamshire home was in a decidedly Tory area and he was roundly defeated.

In 1980, he became staff inspector for design and technology for the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). These were the early days of the national curriculum, and many DT teachers were still adjusting to the idea of incorporating technology work into their lessons. Mr Nicholson patiently led them through the process, with real sympathy for their difficulties.

He was also one of the first people to recognise the need for exams in technology. Working with colleagues, he wrote an electronics module for the subject, making sure that technology would be examined at O level, and later at GCSE.

After the abolition of the ILEA, in 1990, Mr Nicholson took up a post at Brunel University, working with trainee teachers. In the lecture theatre, as in the classroom, he was notable for his organisation and meticulous planning.

This was true, too, in his personal life. He took charge of family gatherings, holidays and events; arrangements to meet friends were inevitably accompanied by detailed instructions. In retirement he grew dahlias, becoming show secretary of his local horticultural society.

Bryan Nicholson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003 and died on 30 November last year. He is survived by his wife, Anthea, and his sons Howard and Jeremy.

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