Obituary

2nd July 2010 at 01:00

Willi Bremner, champion of pupils who struggled to survive within the school system, died suddenly at the age of 66 while hill-walking.

His teaching career spanned East Kilbride, David Kilpatrick School in Leith and four schools in Edinburgh - Craigmount, Forrester and Boroughmuir High schools, and Wester Hailes Education Centre.

Leith born and bred, Willi showed early academic promise, which took him to the "senior secondary", Leith Academy. A year as a volunteer in a deprived area of Liverpool was instrumental in forming his educational philosophy, making the welfare of children, particularly those with difficulties, top priority in his life. Back in Edinburgh, his involvement in Cephas Youth Club in the west end, with hundreds of young people every night, led to another big change. He became responsible for the management of this project, although employed during the day at the American consulate.

After university, Willi taught in various schools, determined to make the education system work for young people, but it was at Wester Hailes Education Centre that he was able to establish his compassionate, radical ideas in creating a first-line guidance system involving teachers in pastoral care.

One of the authors of the 1986 seminal guidance report, More Than Feelings of Concern, Willi was seconded as a national curriculum development officer promoting good practice across schools. Always full of ideas and ready to challenge the status quo, Willi's style was idiosyncratic - apparently relaxed, then suddenly bouncing into action and making things happen before anyone had time to object.

That same radicalism was evident at Boroughmuir as depute and acting head: for Willi, schools had to change to meet the needs of young people. Against setting or streaming, he would avoid excluding badly-behaved pupils and instead work with them to change, invariably accepting excludees from another school.

Willi married Dorothy Marr, a fellow educationalist, and was devoted to his family. An avid reader as well as a highly practical man, he believed you could learn how to do anything from a book. On retiring, he learned how to design websites and did this for charities across the world with an international team, managed by email.

Willi's life ended as he would have wished, walking and communing with nature, leaving behind an indelible mark of love and care for young people, if not for the school system in which they learn. He had a gift of making things right for young people in difficulty, always seeing the good in them even when it was not obvious and always believing in them.

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