Obituary - Annie Williams 1952-2012

1st February 2013 at 00:00

Annie Williams knew what she wanted. She wanted her North London primary to be a place where the arts flourished, where teachers were open-minded and well-travelled, and where children, regardless of background, would receive the best education possible.

She was born in South Wales in 1952. After school, she studied theatre at Bangor University, before leaving home to teach in Algeria and Paris. On her return she moved to London, taking a job at Christ Church Primary in the borough of Camden.

The classroom proved the perfect stage for her theatrical talents. She could be playful with pupils, making them laugh with her silliness. But she could also be melodramatically strict, awing them into silence.

After rising to a senior management position at Christ Church, she was appointed as headteacher of neighbouring Holy Trinity and St Silas Primary in 2000. The school was struggling: it served a disadvantaged area and had a high number of pupils with learning difficulties.

Ms Williams was a fierce believer in the importance of music, art and drama to all children. So, in her second year at Holy Trinity, she decided to introduce Shakespeare into the school. Each spring term would be dedicated to one of his plays, with all pupils - from Reception onwards - learning about its themes.

The term culminated in a week of performances: younger children used music and dance to interpret the play, while the older classes performed an abridged version. The idea eventually spawned the pan-London Primary Shakespeare Company.

Ms Williams also introduced an annual Christmas theatre trip. And, against the odds, she secured funding for all children from Year 4 upwards to learn a brass instrument. Teachers were not exempt from this rule and additional lessons were provided for staff who needed to hone their musical skills. Together, staff and pupils played in class bands.

This was typical. Ms Williams demanded absolute commitment from her staff and made it patently clear if she felt this was not forthcoming. In the staffroom, as in the classroom, she could inspire melodramatic fear. But she was also unfailingly supportive whenever anyone needed help.

She only hired teachers who had travelled or worked abroad, believing that this avoided a parochial outlook. And she expected her staff to visit galleries and museums in their spare time. "The more experiences they have to draw upon, the more they have to share with the children," she said.

She followed her own rules. In fact, the relentlessness of her energy could be exhausting. She would regularly return from the theatre or concert hall suggesting ways in which plays or pieces of music could be incorporated into school life. And she continued to travel: she was particularly inspired by a recent trip to India.

In 2007, Ofsted judged Holy Trinity to be outstanding.

Annie Williams died of leukaemia on 16 December. She is survived by her husband, Martin Riedl, and her son, Harry.

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