Master of the imagination and a 'legend' in his lifetime

4th November 2011 at 00:00
Art teacher's 50-year career is recognised with prestigious award

He's been a teacher, school leader, artist, lecturer, adviser and now a "master of imagination". Jeff Stratton's 50-year career has taken him from youth centres to troubled secondary schools, and even the high seas. Now his energy and expertise have been recognised by the judges of the Teaching Awards, who have awarded him the Ted Wragg Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Mr Stratton, 71, is seen as a "legend" at Lipson Community College in Plymouth, where his unusual post means he teaches part time and is also the school's artist in residence, helping to design stage sets, props and teaching resources.

His first job was as a youth worker in 1958 in Medway, Kent, before taking the plunge and becoming an art teacher two years later. He then pursued a varied career around the county, working as deputy head in the 1970s on the training ship Arethusa, a frigate moored on the Medway used as a boarding school, partially populated by children sent there by local authorities. Pupils wore naval uniform and the ship was made part of the curriculum - even going on voyages if needed.

In 1980, Mr Stratton moved to Plymouth to take up his first headship at Barne Barton school. The secondary was in a challenging area near the Devonport naval docks and many of the parents served in the Falklands War.

Mr Stratton replaced a harsh disciplinary regime with prizes for good behaviour, paid for by parents' bingo sessions. This served to get families more involved in their child's education.

"The whole building was badly vandalised, the toilets were permanently locked - it was like there was a war going on, really," he said. "I thought the fact the school was held together by corporal punishment was dreadful. I sat down with staff and announced we were not going to use it any more. They went white and I thought they were going to walk out on me. In the end they only asked we didn't announce this decision to the children."

The school was closed in 1989 as part of the reorganisation of secondary schools in Plymouth, so Mr Stratton became a tutor on local teacher-training courses. He was then headhunted by Chris Woodhead. The former chief inspector of schools, then deputy chief education officer of Devon County Council, made him a community education officer.

But Mr Stratton resigned after two years and became artist in residence at a community centre run by his wife. There, he came to the attention of Lipson Community College's head Steve Baker, and a part-time role at the school became full time.

Now a grandfather of 10, Mr Stratton has no plans to retire. "Politicians and actors don't give up their work. I don't see why teachers should have to - it's our vocation," he said. "I might adjust the pace of my work, but there's no sign of that happening at the moment. I feel an urgency because I'm teaching Year 7s I want to see at A-level.

"I've got parents who send their child to Lipson because I taught them, and they want me to teach their son or daughter."

Mr Stratton met Ted Wragg, a fellow Devon educationalist, at many meetings locally and was an admirer of his work. He hopes the renowned TES columnist would have approved of his career - and award. There can be little doubt that he would have done.


Oscar-nominated actress Minnie Driver (pictured below) is the newly appointed ambassador for the Pearson Teaching Awards and was in London this week to attend the gala dinner.

"For me, it is about trying to get people supporting education. We have to turn the world on to education as a whole," she told TES. "Inspiration is created in people by the environment that they are in. If teachers can't teach the stuff that kids really love because they are bound by the curriculum and testing and given no room for their imagination, then we have to work a bit harder to create an environment where teachers can do their jobs better."

Ms Driver, who attended Bedales, an independent school in Hampshire, is also an arts education advocate in the US.

"I've always been passionate about the education I had. I don't understand why teachers aren't paid the same as people on Wall Street, or doctors. They are the great unsung heroes of all generations," she said.


School team of the year: PE department at Dyffryn Taf, Whitland, Wales

Outstanding new teacher: Rachael Keeble, Severn Banks Primary School, Gloucestershire

Headteacher of the year: Patricia Davies, Chingford Hall Primary School, London

Teacher of the year: Christine Emmett, St Elizabeth's Primary School, Hamilton, South Lanarkshire

Special needs teacher of the year: Simon Roberts, Selworthy School, Taunton, Somerset

History teacher of the year: Richard Rodd, Tendring Technology College, Frinton on Sea, Essex

Teaching assistant of the year: Mandy Theobald, Spring Meadow Primary School, Harwich, Essex

Science teacher of the year: Nicki Bovey, Community School, Saltash, Cornwall

Henry Winkler Award for Special Needs: Wren Spinney Community Special School, Northamptonshire.

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