Obituary - David Redman - 1949-2011

12th August 2011 at 01:00

With his Simon and Garfunkel songs, his use of classroom drama, and his emphasis on pupil autonomy, David Redman was, in many ways, the stereotype of the 1970s north-London primary teacher.

But when he decided to take on prejudice, disadvantage and free-roaming cows in Devon, Mr Redman rose above such stereotypes. In the process, he taught a generation of rural pupils the meaning of the word "groovy".

David Malcolm Redman was born in March 1949. The child of a poor family, David was considered privileged to earn a place at grammar school. However, he was not a natural academic, leaving school with a clutch of O-levels.

His first job was at Barclays bank. One afternoon, as he was helping a student to set up an account, the manager ordered him to drop what he was doing and assist a rich client instead. Disillusioned, Mr Redman decided to look for more ethical job elsewhere.

And so he enrolled on a teacher-training course at south London's Manresa College. Here, he met and married Ann, a fellow student; they had one daughter, Amy. He also flourished academically for the first time, developing a fascination with educational theory. A quiet, thoughtful man, he believed it was vital to give pupils the time and space to work out their own priorities.

His first job was at William Tyndale Primary, in Islington. He had developed an interest in drama and stories and put these to use in the classroom. As Year 6 teacher, for example, he staged a production of Macbeth, using a mixture of Shakespeare's dialogue and the children's own words. A man of his era, he often brought his guitar into school and encouraged pupils to join in choruses of Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell songs.

He and Ann had separated, and at William Tyndale he met fellow teacher Carolyn Priest. The pair bonded over a belief in the educational value of the arts, though Carolyn did not share his fondness for wordily earnest singer-songwriters. The couple had two children, Francis and Nancy.

In 1987, Mr Redman was appointed deputy head of Fleet Primary, in Hampstead. Five years later, however, he and Carolyn decided to move to Devon.

Mr Redman did not find this move easy. Within weeks of becoming head of Copplestone Primary, he was forced to deal with heavy snowfall, suspicious locals ("are you the chap from London?") and an invasion of cows in the playground.

But he quickly adapted. He was interested and excited to see how central to village life the school was, and to discover that, while racially uniform, his pupils came from a wide range of economic backgrounds.

Ever the hippy, he believed all children should develop their own sense of organisation and their own opinions, and be able to discuss things that mattered to them.

He continued to emphasise the arts: by the time they left school, most pupils knew all the "tra-la-la-la, feelin' groovy" lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel's 59th Street Bridge Song. Similarly, he was keen to use role-play wherever possible: he recreated the experience of Second World War evacuees by taking pupils to spend the night at a school in Exmouth. On another occasion, he cooked an Indian meal for the entire school as part of an extended project on the subcontinent.

Indeed, he was renowned for his curries: he would regularly host dinners at home, entertaining guests into the early hours with stories and observations.

He had a fascination with people, and the way objects could shed light on their lives. He was thrilled, for example, to rediscover his childhood train-set, wrapped in 1950s newspapers, and pored over the to-let adverts stipulating "no coloureds". Redecorating the family's home provided similar opportunity for discovery: he was delighted to remove some hardboard panelling to find beneath it the signatures of the men who had installed it.

DIY was a long-standing pleasure: he would raid local skips, sourcing period doors in one and door-handles in another. He was an incorrigible hoarder, and the shed and loft were full of potentially useful items: locks, keys, weights for sash windows.

He was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006; the aggressive treatment forced him into early retirement. He remained buoyant, however: his hospital visits provided him with considerable anecdotal material.

And he continued to hoard. When he died, at the age of 62, he left behind a detailed inventory of both loft and shed.

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