Daring and passion of comprehensive pioneer

28th January 2000 at 00:00
THE DEATH of Tim McMullen, at 83, has robbed the world of education of one of the most imaginative and dynamic innovators of the 1960s and 1970s.

After a varied teaching career, including a spell as an inspector,Tim was appointed in 1958 as the first headteacher of the newly - formed Thomas Bennett school in Crawley, Sussex. The school had been intended to have a bi-partite structure with separate grammar and secondary modern streams; but from the start Tim was determined that it should be genuinely comprehensive.

Thomas Bennett was one of the pioneers of comprehensive education in South east England, and it was respected both for its academic standards and its commitment to educational equality and opportunity.

In 1966, Tim was appointed director of the Nuffield Foundation's Resources for Learning Project. During the next four years the project developed and piloted a wide range of innovative teaching materials for primary and secondary schools.

The aim was to encourage the spread of group work and individual enquiry alongside whole-class teaching. These were seen as the necessary means of making a success of mixed-ability teaching, in the new environment of the comprehensive system.

Characteristically, Tim was dissatisfied with merely promoting methods for others to follow. He wanted to put them into practice himself.

The opportunity came in 1970 when he was appointed first principal of Countesthorpe College, a purpose-built upper school in Leicestershire.

Tim's vision for Countesthorpe went far beyong the practical application of new teacing methods and resources. He wanted to experiment with a less authoritarian style of leadership.

Decisions on school policy were to be made by the staff as a whole; students were to be given more autonomy.

A new curriculum was devised, common to all but flexible enough to accommodate individual interest and motivation.

Assessment was to be by course-work rather than end-of- year examination. The aim was ambitious - perhaps over-ambitious. Tim's health collapsed and in 1972 he resigned.

In later years he spoke of his time at Countesthorpe as a failure; but in this he was mistaken. After a difficult start the school began to flourish and by the end of the 1970s the creativity and vitality of its curriculum were an inspiration to students, parents, teachers and visitors alike. Tim's daring had paid off.

From 1972 Tim lived in France with Marion, his wife, working first for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and later for the European Union. His acute understanding of young people and his insistence on the practical application of ideas enlivened many a dull moment in the corridors of power.

Meanwhile, Tim and Marion's home on the northern edge of Burgundy became the meeting place for scores of teachers, educationists, administrators, researchers, journalists, past and present students and colleagues from all over Europe. Tim and Marion's hospitality was prodigious but no one who dropped in would get away without being quizzed, provoked and inspired.

Education was Tim's passion. He wanted everyone to share it.

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