Obituary - Geoff Cooksey - 1925-2012

Adi Bloom

Geoff Cooksey managed his school with bear hugs, cups of tea and 1970s' first-name informality. And, like the motorbikes that the Milton Keynes headteacher put together in his workshop, it ran unexpectedly well.

Geoffrey William Cooksey was born in July 1925. After the Second World War, he read English at the University of Manchester. His first teaching post was as English master at Wellingborough Grammar School in Northamptonshire. The young Mr Cooksey was tall, with a loud voice and expansive gestures. He would stretch out on his chair, feet on his desk, filling the room with his personality and his laughter.

Within five years, Mr Cooksey had moved on, becoming head of English; within another five, he was deputy head. By 1965, he was head of Shirebrook School in Derbyshire.

Then, in 1971, he was appointed to design and lead a new comprehensive in Milton Keynes. The school had no existing buildings, policy or ethos: all would be developed by its new headteacher.

Mr Cooksey duly began rewriting the rules of contemporary schooling. He abhorred the notion of school punishment and so he simply removed entire areas of conflict. There was to be no uniform. Students - never "children" or even "pupils" - would call teachers by their first names.

Science and humanities would be integrated until O level, he said. There would be fortnightly non-curriculum days, catering specifically to students' interests.

And the whole school was to be carpeted. Today, this is less unusual; in 1971, it was the hallmark of a radical revolutionary. But Mr Cooksey was adamant. Carpets were "curriculum tool number one", he said, softening the hard edges of classrooms.

Stantonbury Campus opened in 1974, to predictable parental and media outrage. Mr Cooksey, however, was unfazed - he simply invited his critics in for tea. "Go into any classroom you want," he said. "See what discipline is like for yourselves."

There was, obviously, some misbehaviour. But Mr Cooksey did not punish: he talked. He would sit down with teenagers and discuss the problem at hand. They emerged relaxed and laughing, often determined never to transgress again.

And his door was always open, to the occasional frustration of staff members who had scheduled an appointment. Everything was transparent; everything was up for general debate.

Mr Cooksey also knew how to interest disenchanted teenagers. Passionate about motorbikes, he started a repairs workshop in town, where he and his students were regularly to be found up to their elbows in grease. He also ran a lunchtime golf club: it was an added bonus that this allowed him to indulge in a favourite hobby during school time.

Although he retired from Stantonbury in 1985, he continued to work as an education consultant and lecturer. And he could still be seen riding motorbikes through town in his eighties.

Geoff Cooksey died on 23 March. He is survived by his wife, Cynthia, his first wife, Beryl, and their two sons, John and Tom.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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