Pupils I'll never forget

Sarah Bayliss

Others gave up, but Mark used evening classes as the gateway to a new life, recalls Hilary Moriarty

In an evening class of more than 40 students, Mark stood out: wiry, dark, intense, committed, often gaunt with lack of sleep. Sometimes he hadn't done the reading - "I'll catch up, I'll be OK," he'd say. And he was.

Sometimes essays were late - "I'll post it, I promise." And he did.

When we got to the exam, Mark was the star of a class which had shrunk to 15. That was the drop-out rate in the one-year A-level English literature evening class, where we had to cover a two-year syllabus in nine months. We managed a different text every three weeks. In three hours every Monday night we studied the text, plus lit crit whenever we could, and as much exam practice as we could squeeze in - essential when some of the students hadn't been in a classroom for 30 years, let alone an examination hall.

Many students came for the books ("I hated English in school, but Shakespeare and Dickens - wow!") or to retrieve the qualification they knew they were worth but which had eluded them in their own schooldays.

Mark was one of these: he'd left school at 16, got a job, got married, got a family - hence the lack of sleep - became an insurance assessor. He was 26, with a burning thirst for more in his life.

So Mark worked harder than any of us. Three weeks on King Lear? Mark read Othello too. Little Dorritt? Mark lapped up Great Expectations, and said the board had set the wrong book.

Mark got his A grade, and an A in sociology a year later. Then he was off - a first in English, an MA, a PhD and a career as a university lecturer.

Mark threw the party after the exams. The class gave me a rubber plant which, 30 years later, has pride of place in my school. Now if ever I hear of someone leaving school with few qualifications, I think of Mark, and the magical reality of the cliche "lifelong learning". Mark had the chance to go back, like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future. And it changed his life.

Hilary Moriarty is headmistress of Bedgebury School in Kent. Mark was a student of hers in Cardiff in the mid 1970s. Do you have special memories of a pupil? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email sarah.bayliss@tes.co.uk

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Sarah Bayliss

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