Nick Seaton

1st February 2013 at 00:00
The man who founded the Campaign for Real Education has died of cancer, aged 76

To many in the educational establishment, Nick Seaton was their bete noire. He was viewed as a controversial character, trenchant and determined to return schools to the halcyon days of the 1950s.

But to those who worked with him, he was a tireless crusader, standing up against the educational "blob" and battling for the rights and beliefs of parents and even teachers up and down the country.

As chairman and, later, secretary of pressure group the Campaign for Real Education (CRE), Mr Seaton was a favourite among the right-wing press, particularly the Daily Express, for his forthright views on the benefits of grammar schools and the supposed lowering of school standards.

A proud Yorkshireman, Mr Seaton was a paratrooper and car salesman before he decided to give it all up in order to campaign full-time against what he saw as the erosion of real educational values.

It was the move in 1987 to turn York's grammar school system into a comprehensive one that finally forced Mr Seaton to establish the CRE, and it was testament to his indefatigable nature that the organisation managed to attract such attention, despite being a one-man operation run from the bedroom of a suburban house outside York.

The CRE rose to prominence after a dispute broke out at the Lewes Priory School in East Sussex, over the decision by two teachers to enter their history students for the O level as well as the new GCSE: they believed the O level to be a superior and more rigorous qualification.

For the teachers - Chris McGovern, the CRE's current chair, and Anthony Freedman - the move led to the loss of their jobs. But Mr Seaton was the driving force in a campaign to defend their actions, claiming that the GCSE was an inferior exam.

According to Mr McGovern, although Mr Seaton was painted as a "big C" conservative who was not afraid to speak his mind, he was in reality a "self-effacing man" who had an innate mistrust of all politicians, whatever their allegiances.

Despite Mr Seaton's being associated with the Right, his friend and colleague said that he viewed himself as a "liberal" who was interested in restoring rigour to the education system.

Even as recently as this year, Mr McGovern said, the staunch campaigner "tore into Nick Gibb" (the former Conservative schools minister) over the government's proposed changes to the curriculum. At the time, Mr Seaton was battling pancreatic cancer, the illness that eventually took his life at the age of 76.

It was this approach that Mr Seaton will be remembered for: unafraid and unashamed to take on those he saw as getting in the way of his crusade for a "real education".

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