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Obituary - Rex Hall 1946-2010

By the time the new Labour government's Playing for Success (PfS) initiative was launched by Tony Blair in 1997, Rex Hall had already spent nearly two decades working in education.

Earlier that year, he'd been approached by the future prime minister, while he was still leader of the Opposition, and shadow education secretary David Blunkett about the idea. Just weeks after Labour's landslide victory, a pilot programme was launched.

Mr Hall played a key role in the PfS initiative - which aimed to tackle poor literacy and numeracy levels among demotivated key stage 2 to 3 pupils with the help of Premier League football clubs - to mushroom from using one sport at the outset to the 19 that now take part.

The pilot, which involved hosting out-of-school-hours study support centres at Premier League clubs, was soon extended by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), which quickly realised the power of sport to get to hard-to-reach children.

A decade or so later, more than 150 support centres are in use, involving some of the biggest names in English sport, from Manchester United to Yorkshire County Cricket Club. In that time, more than 300,000 pupils have been helped to improve their basic skills and raise their self-esteem.

Mr Hall remained the lead consultant for PfS and recruited and managed a team of "critical friends" - used by the DfES, local education authorities as well as centre managers - which helped the scheme to become the pinnacle of his achievements.

Born the day after Bonfire Night in 1946 in Harrow, north London, Mr Hall remained a one-career man, spending more than 30 years in education, working in senior posts and at project management level. He was involved in preparing and writing many of the reports and policy documents relating to study support and out-of-school-hours learning before establishing Rex Hall Associates in 2007.

He co-wrote the code of practice for study support in primary schools, acted as a critical friend to Quality in Study Support (QiSS) and was a consultant to the study support quality development programme that it ran.

In the 1970s, he was a founder member of the Tower Hamlets Youth Exchange Group and helped to establish a meeting place for young people from overseas to come and stay.

He always remained close to his London roots; indeed, colleagues noted his aversion to anything resembling green space. Working with the London Docklands Development Corporation, he was involved in projects such as the Limehouse and Wapping youth clubs.

In the mid-1990s, he persuaded Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership to pilot the first summer university, and he was the founding trustee of the initiative which became known as the Tower Hamlets Summer University London.

The charity offered independent learning programmes for people aged 11 to 25 and later changed its name to Futureversity. Its patrons now include the pop star Dizzee Rascal and the barrister Helena Kennedy QC.

At the renaming event, Mr Hall told the assembled young guests: "Help us to reach more young people to convince them that this is the answer to their summer, their education, their future and their control of their lives.

"This is yours and you should be taking it over. It might be our job to raise a few pennies here and there, but it's your job to lead us, to advise us, to inspire us and to take us to the next level."

He received an MBE in 2003 for his services to study support and the PfS initiative.

But Mr Hall's enthusiasm reached further afield too. He was a space history expert and became a fellow of the British Interplanetary Society in 1986, a dozen years after joining it. He later became the society's president and held the post from 2003 until 2006.

His particular expertise was the SovietRussian space programme. He wrote and edited a number of books on the subject. As his influence grew, he got to know former cosmonauts on first-name terms. Such was the secrecy associated with the Soviet space programme that the network of correspondents committed to writing about it were dubbed the "Soviet space sleuths".

His passion for this period of space history led Mr Hall, who also ran the annual SovietChinese symposium for the society, to set up the annual Soviet Technical Forum.

Rex Hall died on May 31 after a long battle against cancer, aged 63.

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