David Mundell

17th May 2013 at 01:00
The MP recalls a man who pushed him to explore his own beliefs and take an active interest in political issues

Growing up in Wamphray in rural Dumfriesshire under the influence of my mother, who ran her own hotel business for 34 years, and my grandmother, who was the postmistress there for 36 years, it would have been easy to think that hard graft was more important than education.

My school career began just down the road from home, at Wamphray Primary, although after a year or so my family moved to Lockerbie, where I completed my primary education, before I went on to the academy, where I was later head boy.

There were a number of excellent teachers. But one in particular stands out - Jeff Brown, who taught me history in my first year and was later my guidance teacher in my final year. When I first sat in his class, he had not long qualified and was in his first teaching job.

Looking back, it is amusing to think that he seemed so much older than I was. But even in his early years of teaching, a number of special qualities marked him out.

Jeff clearly viewed teaching as a vocation rather than a job, and his commitment to giving something back to society extended beyond the school gates and the traditional pupil-teacher divide. He lent his time and expertise to a number of local groups, including the church, and encouraged and supported his students to organise events and trips, and to volunteer. He also shared his sense of humour - and at times his taste in music. I remain a lifelong fan of The Eagles and wonder if he still has his copy of the album that my classmates and I gave him at the end of our sixth year.

Yet he never seemed motivated by his own popularity. Instead, he recognised the importance of morality in shaping the way young people view the world. He didn't preach, but inspired his students to explore and develop their own beliefs. Certainly, he inspired me to take an active interest in political issues, and although he used to wind me up about my support for the Conservatives, he encouraged me to be a participant rather than a spectator.

The vast majority of his students look back on their time with him with great fondness because he dared to challenge them to succeed, while recognising that each individual must do so on their own terms. It was this sort of encouragement and support that was instrumental in helping me to become the first person in my family to go to university.

It came as no surprise to me that when my own children attended Moffat Academy, where he was their headteacher, he remained committed to his personal approach. In an age in which aspects of teaching were becoming increasingly graded by league table performance, he proved that authenticity and commitment to real learning were not barriers to such success but vital components. He knew each student by name and understood their aspirations.

Students were rarely called to his office, nor did they have to wait to see him, so present was he in every aspect of school life. Despite receiving much personal praise during this stage of his career, Jeff always deflected this by pointing out that his success was never just his own and that he was privileged to work with his students and staff, including his wife Liz, who was an outstanding teacher in her own right.

His "thought for the week" was hugely popular with students during these later years at Moffat Academy and it seems fitting to recall the words of Nelson Mandela, who said that "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world". Jeff lived up to those words and remains an example to everyone of the difference education makes - not just in the classroom but to the shape of our society.

I feel privileged to have known Jeff - first as a student, then later as a parent and politician. I have always considered him a friend, although I am certain that, if asked, he would tell you that he remains first and foremost my teacher and would point out that I still have a lot to learn.

The Right Honourable David Mundell MP was talking to David Harrison.


Born: Dumfries, 27 May 1962

Education: Wamphray Primary; Lockerbie Primary; Lockerbie Academy; University of Edinburgh; University of Strathclyde

Career: Local councillor; lawyer; BT executive; Member of Scottish Parliament; Member of Parliament.

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