Obituary - Bridget Salisbury 1958-2011

29th July 2011 at 01:00

Bridget Salisbury did not like authority. In all aspects of her life, the Wiltshire teacher let nothing - not headteachers, not Ofsted - stand in the way of her unfettered creativity and enthusiasm.

Bridget Bennett was born in Chelmsford, Essex, in October 1958, the only sister to three brothers. Her father did not work and squandered what little money the family had. This paternal fecklessness left her with no respect for authority, unless authority earned her respect.

After leaving school, she achieved a first-class degree in geology and geography at Manchester University, followed by a PGCE qualification at Oxford. However, she was tempted away from teaching by an offer to work for oil company Petrofina.

Though she enjoyed the geological element of the work, she was not particularly keen on other aspects: the sole woman on oil rigs, she had to have bathrooms built especially for her.

Teaching, however, was a positive career choice rather than a fallback option. Naturally creative, she relished the chance to enthuse about her subject. On one occasion, for example, she created an ersatz mine in her classroom, inviting pupils to crawl through and discover hidden minerals along the way.

And she had empathy with disadvantaged children. Her heart went out to badly behaved boys, in particular: she could see that their behaviour was a product of their upbringing and longed to take them under her wing.

Her first teaching job, in 1988, was at New Hall School in Chelmsford. Looking for a home to rent, she made an appointment with Tom Salisbury, a biologist leaving his flat to take a job in France. She did not like the flat, but wanted a second viewing of the landlord. They married eight months later.

Mrs Salisbury subsequently accompanied her new husband to Lyon. Here, she taught English to local BB owners. After four years, the couple and their two-year-old son Alistair returned to Chelmsford. A daughter, Florence, was born in 1992. And following a move to Salisbury, Annabel was born in 1996.

Looking after her own young children, Mrs Salisbury - the match of surname and home town was always a slight irritation to her - became increasingly interested in primary education, enrolling on a conversion course at Winchester University.

In fact, her first job afterwards was A-level geography teacher at Bishop Wordsworth's grammar.

The stringent constraints of the syllabus were not easy for her. Similarly, her unwillingness to tick boxes meant that she tended to perform poorly in Ofsted inspections. She was, for example, furious when an inspector marked her down for failing to write the date on her whiteboard. And she occasionally clashed with headteachers she considered less skilled than she was: she saw no reason to listen to them.

This casual disrespect for authority extended beyond the school gates. A Liberal Democrat, she once accosted Nick Clegg and told him that he should introduce a 100 per cent tax on inheritance. She saw no reason why her pupils should be less successful than wealthier children, purely because their parents did not have the money for private education.

The flip side of this was a healthy disregard for workplace pettiness. While other teachers might remain in their traditional staffroom corners, she migrated from group to group, making conversation with everyone: "even the PE department", one colleague noted.

After a year at Bishop Wordsworth's, she worked at an independent primary before taking a job at Britford Primary, where she remained for several years.

Primary teaching allowed for greater expression of her personality: she derived pleasure from making children happy. But she retained her interest in geology, taking her family on regular fossil-hunting trips to Lyme Regis.

She was a keen amateur painter and sculptor. Here, once again resisting categorisation, she worked in a range of media and subjects. And she encouraged creativity at home. Tom regularly complained that he did not have time to implement all the home-improvement ideas she came up with. (This was just as well: she regularly changed her mind shortly afterwards.)

He did, however, implement her suggestion to extend their garden into a neighbouring field. Here, as elsewhere in life, Mrs Salisbury rejected stuffy formality, instead ensuring that the garden was deliberately wild and unkempt.

When the cancer diagnosis came in 2009, she responded with fervent denial. This enabled her to continue living relatively carefree until February this year, when illness forced her to give up work. She died on 24 May.

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