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Pupils I'll never forget

Chief inspector David Bell remembers an inspirational class

Eighteen years ago, I was a new deputy head at Powers Hall junior school in Witham, Essex. I had the same class for two years. In old parlance they were third and fourth year juniors, and they were the most fantastic class I ever worked with.

There were so many of them, for one thing. I'd just come from Scotland, where the maximum class was 25; here there were 38. But they were marvellous kids, lovely characters. Somehow the chemistry was right between us.

They were all enthusiastic, really up for whatever I wanted to do. I wanted to introduce girls' football, and they loved it. And we did wonderful projects together, in those pre-national curriculum years. "Night" was one, I remember. Tudors and Stuarts was another, and Roald Dahl.

We once spent part of maths week in Witham churchyard, studying gravestones: dates, life spans, family histories.

I can probably remember all their names. There was Helen Seward, who used to laugh at all my jokes. I think she flourished. And Lucy Roche and Lucy Daniels. And Robert Rushton, Matthew Wash and Joanne Short. And Mhairi Boyle, who later, I remember, won a TES poetry competition. And Karen Wickenden, bless her, who came to see me when I was at Newcastle. Very special, all of them.

So it's not a hazy recollection, it's very clear. They did a book of memories and impressions for me. I've still got it - and still flick through it occasionally.

We had a running joke. "Oh, I could murder a Double Decker," I used to say, and at the end of the week, there'd be a chocolate bar on the desk.

But it's the way those pupils learned that I most remember. They became the benchmark for all my future teaching. They taught me the values of creativity and a broad curriculum - values I still strongly hold.

And do you know what? I'm going back to Powers Hall on a chief inspector's visit. I do one a week, but this one will be a special pleasure. That class was a joy to teach. Besides, they shaped my thinking. I'd love to know where they are now.

David Bell was Newcastle's director of education from 1995 until 2000, when he was appointed chief executive of Bedfordshire County Council. He became chief inspector of schools in May 2002. He was talking to Michael Duffy. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to TES Friday editor Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email

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