Learning through the ages

15th August 2008 at 01:00
In the latest in our series on teaching dynasties, the Orr family talks to Stephen Manning


I've been deputy head at Shotton Primary School in Shotton Colliery, County Durham, for the past six years, and from September I will be taking over as headteacher. I'll be the third generation of heads in our family - my father was a secondary head and his father was a primary head.

It is truly a teaching dynasty. My parents, my dad's parents and two sisters, my younger brother and his wife, my older half-sister and her husband - all have been in the profession. My younger brother and wife still teach - he is head of music at Kendal College, an FE college in Cumbria.

But despite being raised in a household full of teachers, there was never any expectation to follow the profession. I took languages at A-level, but when I came to apply for university and looked into the potential career options, interpreter for example, they seemed rather limited and unappealing.

I'd never given much thought to following my parents into teaching. At school, I never stood out in any one subject - I was an average all- rounder. When I started to consider what job would best suit me, primary teacher seemed like the one because of the creativity and the variety.

I had dreams of being a professional opera singer and at the age of 18 applied to music colleges, but they all said come back in four years when I had more singing experience. So I did four years of teacher training at Edge Hill University, Lancashire, thinking of it mainly as a backup.

When I was 22 I got my first teaching job at John F. Kennedy Primary in Washington, Tyne amp; Wear, and realised that the route of professional opera singer maybe wasn't ideal for me. So now I have a job that I enjoy, and I choose the singing that I want to do. I perform about once a month, solo and with the choir, grand opera such as Verdi's La Traviata, but also the great American songwriters, Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.

I chose to work in a challenging school in quite a deprived area, an ex- mining community. You can't change everyone overnight, but you can make a difference to a few, by getting them interested in arts, drama, sports.

My parents were never pushy. I think they were worried that I felt pressured into the profession, but I wasn't. But it's nice when you know your parents are proud of you.

Rachel Orr, 40, is deputy head at Shotton Primary School in Shotton Colliery, County Durham.


I started my teaching career in an FE college, at Hebbon Technical College (now South Tyneside College) and then Durham Technical College. The move to Durham Johnston, a comprehensive, was a shock. You need a strength of personality to hold the attention of pupils. You have to be strong before you start. Primary teaching isn't the same, but still requires a strong personality, so we wouldn't have pushed Rachel if she hadn't really wanted to do it.

Meg Orr, 68, taught for 25 years and now works in her local church, running courses and giving talks.


When I was head at Hetton Lyons Secondary Modern a lot of parents knew me outside of school, as I played cricket with Eppleton Cricket Club, the local team. It was good that the parents could relate to me outside of a school context. I retired at the age of 58 to stay at home and look after the children, while Meg, who had just finished her degree, went out and taught.

Rachel wouldn't need any advice from me on how to be a head. She's intelligent and far more capable than I was.

Geoff Orr, 83, was headteacher at Hetton Lyons Secondary Modern School (now Hetton School), Tyne amp; Wear, until his retirement in 1983.

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