My best teacher

28th September 2001 at 01:00
I had lots of favourite teachers, which sounds really naff. At William Tyndale primary school in Islington, there was a woman called Elise Kiehl. She was brilliant because she had this love of music and African culture. We learned at a very young age quite a detailed history of the roots of blues, the slave trade, the structure of Afro-American culture. She runs a theatre company in London now and I still see her.

At Stoke Newington secondary school I thrived because I hate homogeneous environments. A teacher at William Tyndale asked me, "Why do you want to go to that school in Hackney when everyone else is going to Hampstead?" And I said I didn't think I could stand being somewhere where everyone was white and middle class. She told me I was a reverse racist. The idea of wanting to be somewhere multicultural was seen as strange.

I left primary school at 10, which might have had something to do with my height - I'm 6ft now. I took my GCSEs a year early, at 15, but I don't think it was because I was smart. Maybe precocious; I was definitely precocious. I did A-levels in French, politics and English.

Another favourite teacher was my drama teacher, Daphne Solomon, a formidable, fiery woman who is still at Stoke Newington.

In a way I suppose my mum, Susie Burrows, is one of my favourite teachers. She adores the children she teaches at her Hackney primary, and they tell her the most amazing things about their lives because they trust her. She treats them as young people who have the potential to be anyone and encourages them in the arts. I go into her class a lot. They're hilarious, these kids.

My parents are very much proponents of state education and strongly disagree with private education. My mum has taught in Hackney for over 30 years. She's a strong trade unionist; she was president of the Hackney NUT. My stepfather, Richard Reiser, was general secretary of the Inner London Teachers' Association in the days of Ilea and the GLC. They're both still part of the rank and file group within the NUT. My father is a primary school teacher and still teaching in Devon.

Now I'm a governor at my 13-year-old brother's school, Islington arts and media school in Holloway, which has had a lot of stick in the past couple of years, but he's incredibly happy there. I'm very involved with that school and in non-elitist education.

I think it's despicable what goes on in our country, the idea that you're told at a young age in a public or prep school that you are the cream of the country, and you're given this extraordinary confidence bordering on arrogance. All children should have that confidence. This obsession with results and Ofsted and SATs is very depressing.

My parents were in the Socialist Workers Party for a long time, and when I was about 10 I became obsessed with class and racial politics and gender. I became passionate about the idea of change, the idea that one person can make a difference in life.

I was fortunate to be around some very courageous people. Blair Peach, the New Zealand teacher who was killed on an anti-racist march in 1979, was a friend of my stepfather's. I was seven years old then. It was a shocking time.

I can't really separate my politics from the rest of my life. It informs everything I do.

Actress Saffron Burrows was talking to Helen Barlow at the Deauville film festival in France


1973 Born in London

1975-1983 William Tyndale primary school, Islington 1984 Stoke Newington school in Hackney

1984-88 Anna Scher Youth Theatre, Islington

1993 Cameo role in In The Name of The Father

1995 Bigger part in Welcome II The Terrordome

1995 Career breakthrough in Circle of Friends

1996 Appears in Dennis Potter's Karaoke TV series

1997 One Night Stand. Meets partner, the film's director Mike Figgis.

1997 The Matchmaker

1999 US action movies Deep Blue Sea and Wing Commander

2000 Timecode and Gangster No 1

2001 Stars in Enigma, on general release from today

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