22nd May 2009 at 01:00
Andy Todd 1953-2009

For a man who spent 34 years in the same school, Andy Todd was remarkably energetic. Thirty years after he began, he was still re-enacting the Battle of Agincourt on a row of desks, leaping off the school stage in an impression of singer Sonny Bono, and coaching the school table-tennis team to national success.

In between, the 55-year-old humanities teacher showed consistent empathy, understanding and support for pupils of all abilities at Wollaston secondary.

Andrew Todd was born in Nottingham in 1953; 21 years later, he joined the staff of Wollaston, a Northampton comprehensive. The fresh-faced, sports-mad new teacher immediately began to impress pupils with his idiosyncratic approach.

Leaping over furniture was a staple of his lessons. The triumph of Henry V, he felt, could be brought alive if he played the role of the soldiers, clambering over desks.

His aim was to enthuse all pupils with a love of history. He had failed his 11-plus, and that failure had given him a terrier-like tenacity, as well as a desire to support the underdog. So, after several years at Wollaston, he took responsibility for the school's special needs department.

But his interests were not limited to one end of the academic spectrum. Shortly afterwards, he was also appointed head of sixth form. He was committed to entering the most talented sixth formers for Oxbridge, regardless of their background. He joined the admissions panel of a Cambridge college purely so he could give his pupils a clearer understanding of the process.

Indeed, he threw himself into everything with similar vigour. He was always first to volunteer for fundraising events, whether it was standing in the stocks and being attacked with wet sponges or auctioning himself as slave for a day.

One year, he dressed up as Sonny Bono and performed a charity karaoke version of "I Got You Babe". Mid-number, he leapt four feet off the stage, then ran up and down the aisles, serenading pupils.

Though he joked about setting up a "crinkly corner" of aged cronies, he was also an elder statesman of the staffroom. He felt a keen responsibility towards younger colleagues and would always single out members of staff for public praise. He was quick to notice personal details - a haircut, new clothes - and to offer compliments.

While working with disappointed A-level candidates, troubled families or, occasionally, seriously ill pupils, he showed a real talent for listening. He did not lecture: he was merely a constant, sympathetic presence, helping others to find solutions for themselves.

He also shared his love of sports with pupils. He set up a table-tennis team during his first year at Wollaston; 31 years later, they became national under-19 champions.

It was through school sports that he met his wife, Rosie. She had started as a PE teacher at Wollaston a year before he arrived; three years later, they were married. Their son, Christopher, was born in 1980, and their daughter, Elizabeth, three years after that.

He was never a rugged individualist: he preferred working collectively. This was a lesson passed on to his sports teams, where it was often the least assuming members who won matches. But it also affected his professional life. He was happy as a team player and did not aspire to lead a school. Even when he developed the rare illness that would ultimately kill him, his prime focus was always the classroom.

"When I come back," he would tell Michael Browne, head of Wollaston. "When I come back ... ".

He never did come back: he died shortly before his 56th birthday. His sixth formers requested that Wollaston's sixth form centre be named after him. The Andy Todd Sixth Form Centre was officially renamed on the day of his memorial service.

Andy Todd is survived by his wife, Rosie, and two children.

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