Obituary

6th March 2009 at 00:00

Frank Stevens 1911-2009

Today, headteachers who take early retirement tend to branch out into consultancy or advisory work. Frank Stevens, who died earlier this year, moved to a hilltop in Uganda and set up a post-colonial education system.

Stevens became the east African country's first chief inspector of schools, building up a staff of trained officers and preparing education for independence.

One of a vanishing generation of colonial teacher-missionaries, Stevens was born in 1911. After graduating from Oxford, he became a grammar school history teacher. With the advent of the Second World War, he joined an anti-aircraft unit, reaching the rank of major.

In 1946, he was appointed head of Ormskirk Grammar in Lancashire. Pupil rolls rose by a quarter; the chairman of governors dubbed him a "headmaster of the most unusual calibre". Always a keen sportsman, he coached everything from rugby to cricket.

During his time at Ormkirk, his first wife died unexpectedly in childbirth. Left alone with three children, Stevens became increasingly religious, seeking solace in Christianity.

Claiming that headteachers who stay in post for longer than four years tend to stagnate, he moved to Poole Grammar in Dorset in 1950. There, he introduced rugby to the school and involved pupils in building a new athletics track.

In an inaugural school address that is striking in its modernity, he insisted that school should not be an exam factory. Instead, he emphasised the value of truth, beauty and honesty. In particular, he was concerned with the "clash of colour". Respect for all races, he said, was vital in Britain's new, increasingly multicultural society. He was an early opponent of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

It was his interest in Africa that drew him to his second wife, Elizabeth. They met on a walking tour in Austria, and quickly discovered that they both had a desire to work in Uganda.

So, fascinated by the challenges of a world caught between empire and post-colonialism, Stevens volunteered to work as a teacher in pre-independence Uganda. His first post was as head of Iganga teacher-training college.

Shortly afterwards, he became head of Nyakasura secondary school at Rwenzori. Elizabeth became school bursar. In 1958, the school achieved the best exam results in Uganda, as well as its best results on the sports field.

As the country moved towards independence, it needed to develop a self-sufficient educational administration. So, adhering to his own four-year rule, Stevens moved to Kampala in 1959 to develop the nascent Ugandan schools' inspectorate. With a staff of one, the new chief inspector's first role was to hire and train inspectors. In the interim, he travelled around the country for weeks on a "safari" of remote schools.

Uganda achieved independence in 1962, and Stevens left a year later. By that time, he had 25 experienced inspectors working for him. He retired to England where, still a keen sportsman, he bought a home near the Somerset cricket ground in Taunton.

He was greatly distressed when Idi Amin seized control of Uganda in 1971. Most schools suffered under the regime, and many former Nyakasura pupils disappeared. He and Elizabeth did not visit Uganda again: they felt the country would have changed beyond recognition.

Throughout his teaching career, he had worked as a lay reader for the church. After retirement, he was ordained. He then served in three Somerset parishes.

Stevens remained active throughout his retirement years, always relishing the opportunity to serve his local community.

He died on January 13 at the age of 97. He is survived by Elizabeth, his four children, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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