Obituary - Geof Cumner-Price, 1948-2011

18th March 2011 at 00:00

Geof Cumner-Price, more than one member of staff has said, was not just head of Oakthorpe Primary: he was Oakthorpe Primary. Since his death last month, people have even suggested that the Enfield school may now need to change its name - it will not be Oakthorpe without Mr Cumner-Price.

Geoffrey Cumner-Price was born in Cambridge in September 1948. His childhood was active: as a teenage Scout he attempted to earn every badge he possibly could. Later he held a series of part-time jobs, ranging from ice-cream vendor to bus conductor.

Initially, Geof ("there's only one 'f' in 'Geof'," he would say) had intended to take a science degree. But after a visit to Trent Park teacher-training college, he decided to qualify as a primary teacher instead. He later attributed this decision to the large number of female teachers in primary schools.

His first job was as a junior teacher at St Edmund's Primary in Enfield, north London. Here his career decision paid off: he met Mary Kelly, a young probation teacher. Three years later they married; they went on to have four children.

As a teacher, he was a natural showman. The chalkface was his comedy platform, the pupils an instant audience. The most important thing, he believed, was that children should leave school with happy memories. "Never waste a day, because it's a day they won't get back," he said.

Shortly before his wedding in 1978, Mr Cumner-Price was appointed deputy head of Oakthorpe Juniors, also in Enfield. He was to remain there for the next 32 years, becoming head in 1987. Later, when Oakthorpe Infants and Juniors amalgamated, he was named head of the all-through primary.

He quickly took on responsibility for Christmas performances, writing and directing child-friendly versions of musicals such as Cats and Starlight Express. In his spare time he played in Carnaby Street, a 1960s tribute band; he and other members would accompany pupils during school productions. Eventually, his Christmas shows would become so well known that other schools would ask to borrow the scripts.

But even off stage he was a consummate performer. Any available opportunity - book week, maths week, science week - he would come to school in wigs, tights or oversized glasses. Even his everyday outfits retained hints of fancy dress. He was renowned for his ties: eccentric, brightly coloured or noise-making.

His fondness for 1960s music found its way into school life, too. In place of hymns, weekly assemblies featured hits from Mr Cumner-Price's youth: Daydream Believer or Blue Suede Shoes. (On his 60th birthday, he donned an Elvis wig for a performance of the latter.)

But it was not for his performances alone that pupils would run down the corridor to grab on to his arms and legs. As far as he was concerned, school was about relationships: Oakthorpe was a second family. He made time for absolutely everyone, teacher, parent or child. And he had a natural way with people: parents might arrive in his office unhappy, but they would leave laughing.

Ever the badge-collecting Scout, he was eager to acquire school-based badges of success. The Oakthorpe letterhead is covered with awards earned: basic skills, quality mark, healthy schools. In 2007, he earned a more personal accolade, becoming Teaching Award finalist for primary head of the year.

Ultimately, he wanted his school to be the best. Oakthorpe was one of the first schools to employ teaching assistants and install interactive whiteboards. In 2000, it became one of the few primaries to take on graduate teacher-trainees (his rationale was that new teachers would bring energy and enthusiasm to the school, which could only benefit pupils).

Oakthorpe's north London location meant that staff and pupils were fairly evenly split between Arsenal and Spurs fandom, but Mr Cumner-Price was unequivocal in his devotion to Spurs. He was a season-ticket holder, and his house included a dedicated Spurs room, to hold his accumulated memorabilia. He was also an active sportsman himself: he swam 40 lengths every day, until ill health prevented him from doing so.

After the initial diagnosis of stomach cancer, he was forced to take time off school for treatment. But he was never far away: he had recorded various jingles for the new school radio station, and his voice resounded through the corridors every lunchtime.

He had always expected to be back at school full-time. Not long before he died, on 4 February, he was still talking about plans for Oakthorpe.

Geof Cumner-Price is survived by Mary, and by their children Ellen, Christopher, Michael and Andrew.

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