Obituary - Michael Marland, December 28, 1934 - July 3, 2008

11th July 2008 at 01:00
Prolific pioneer of federal schools

Prolific pioneer of federal schools

Michael Marland CBE, who died of cancer on Thursday, July 3, aged 73, was a fine teacher, a notable head, an influential author on many aspects of education, a warm and caring influence on thousands of children and an unforgettable friend and colleague.

Just weeks ago, he was visiting friends and showed no signs of slowing down.

After teaching in Germany and Kent, Michael joined the English department at Crown Woods, then the biggest secondary in London. In 1971, he became head of Woodberry Down, a comprehensive in Hackney. These were turbulent times; pupil numbers in Hackney were falling and many secondaries were at risk of closure. Throughout, Michael kept his nerve and preserved a powerful momentum. Meanwhile, he was writing articles and editing or producing books of his own while engaging with a wide range of educational organisations.

He was a prolific writer of discussion papers. One was particularly influential. Since 1947, London had been trying to provide secondaries large enough to develop sixth forms that could offer a wide range of courses. Large secondaries were becoming increasingly hard to manage, while easier-to-run small schools were rarely able to offer adequate post- 16 opportunities. Hence the idea emerged of a federal school - a large school with its 11- to 14-year-olds kept on two lower-school sites, feeding into a 14-18 upper school.

Michael believed this would succeed in Hackney and argued powerfully in favour. Others disagreed, but when, soon afterwards, three secondaries in Westminster were on the brink of collapse at a time of falling numbers, Michael's paper was among the documents read by elected members before making their decision.

They settled on a federal school, and Michael was the obvious choice to be the first head of the North Westminster Community School (NWCS) that he had been so influential in creating.

His creation of one new school out of three in various stages of decline was a masterful achievement. There was little money for new building, but he insisted the school had a centre for the performing arts and acquired outstanding teachers to run it. In the face of a sceptical County Hall, he planned for an annual entry of 300 pupils, initially divided between the two lower schools. Early one morning, he was crowing triumphantly over the telephone: "We're full!"

During Michael's 19 years of headship, North Westminster was never dull. Like the rest of us he made mistakes but his belief that, when properly cared for, even children with the most unpromising history of failure could succeed remained unshaken. Tributes from parents, pupils and staff emphasise that defining characteristic of Michael as a teacher and a person.

He had a restless energy about him. He believed supply teachers needed better training and full professional recognition, so he battered County Hall into providing at least part of what he wanted. He believed all schools should provide systematic forms of pastoral care; the National Association of Pastoral Care in Education, of which he was the first chairman, was the institutional expression of that belief.

He never stopped. On leaving North Westminster, Michael was much in demand as a lecturer and consultant and, just recently, as series editor of the Cambridge Collections, anthologies aimed at key stage 3 teachers and students.

How will Michael be remembered? By some, at home with his family in London or Suffolk; by others, surrounded by young people in school; by others again, smiling across a restaurant table, glass of red wine at hand and trademark bow tie ever so slightly askew. In so many different ways and for so many different people, he will remain an unforgettable presence.

A great 19th century headmaster of Uppingham once wrote as his own epitaph: "Work to the end of life, life to the end of work." For Michael, another great headmaster, with work still to do, sadly the end came far too soon.

`He was one of the greats'

Reflections from colleagues and former pupils

Helene Fawcett

Former NWCS teacher

We belonged to a big family at NWCS and the emotional bonds which held us all together were so strong that they stay with us forever. We argued and celebrated as a family; there were factions and frissons and outbursts and sulks. It all mattered deeply - it was not just about "filling in the forms".

Christine Lacki

FrenchItalian teacher, NWCS, 1980-2006

I remember my interview with him in July 1980. Although he seemed very interested in my languages and interests and clearly showed he wanted to appoint me, I felt he was rather distracted. Suddenly he blurted out, "Do you know where I am going today - I am having tea with the Queen!" This is one of my dinner-party anecdotes, and I finish by saying if he had not been going to Buckingham Palace, maybe I wouldn't have been appointed. North Westminster was an amazing place to work. I have not met one former member of staff who says their present employment is more satisfying than it was there.

Lauren Pearce

Former pupil

The most wonderful thing about Michael was that he believed all cultural experiences should be open to all. The ethos of NWCS in the early 1990s made me grateful for the wonderful gift of a truly comprehensive and multi-cultural experience. I have now come full circle, and 12 years after leaving school, I will be starting my teaching career back in London in September. I hold Michael's vision dear and hope to pass on his legacy - a passionate belief in comprehensive education and the fulfilment it can give to life - to my students.

Assal Ravanshad

Former pupil

The first time I met Mr Marland was at Paddington Lower House when my sister and brother went with my mum to be interviewed. When he saw me sitting outside his room, he invited me in and suggested the whole family join. All three of us joined in 1996. I stayed for five years. I had never stayed in a secondary school for more than eight months and had already changed four times. Mr Marland gave a lot of young people a lifetime's worth of inspiration through the stories he told us in the assemblies and through his wonderful members of staff.

Dr Anthony Seldon

Master of Wellington College

Michael was one of the formative influences on my whole career in education. His writing influenced me more than anyone else's when I was studying to be a teacher, and within the last two months I had the joy of inviting him to Wellington College to speak to staff. He was one of the greats. Bless.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today