Obituary - Robert Roche - 1955-2009

16th October 2009 at 01:00

At the end of the school day, teachers at Ashgate Primary would often hear the strains of uptempo jazz echoing through the Victorian corridors. Or they would reach their cars and find that a flat tyre had been mended while they were teaching.

These were the subtle but distinctive ways in which Robert Roche made his impact on the Derby school where he was head.

Born in 1955 to Italian parents, young Robert was a gifted pianist and enrolled on an education and music degree when he left school.

While at college, he met Ann, a fellow trainee, and they married shortly afterwards. Ann specialised in behaviour support; this was an interest that her husband was also to develop in later years.

Meanwhile, however, he found a job at a Nottingham primary. His skills were quickly recognised and he was promoted within a few years, working as a peripatetic deputy head for several local schools.

In September 1990, he was appointed head of Ashgate Junior School in Derby. From the start, he created an impression: drawing on his Italian heritage, he cooked spaghetti bolognaise for his first staff meeting.

Cooking was not the only unexpected talent he brought to the job. He was extremely practical and would often spend his holidays fitting a new bathroom at home or laying a driveway. (On one occasion, a passerby asked for his business card, so that he could do some work at her home, too.)

Such practicality was immediately put to use in the classroom: teachers who struggled with laptops or interactive whiteboards would always call in Mr Roche to help. And anyone who turned up to work with a flat tyre would return home with it mended.

Mr Roche also filled the school with music. He took charge of end-of-year performances, accompanying pupils on the piano. He would also play classical pieces on the school piano before work. At the end of a stressful day, he would unwind by hammering out jazz tunes.

Matching his wife's interest in behaviour management, he began to admit special-needs pupils. Through consistent and cohesive teaching, he believed, all children could achieve their potential.

And he would go out of his way to check up on troubled children, talking through any difficulties they might have at home. For example, he worked closely with one boy, encouraging his interest in the guitar. At the end of term, the pupil was confident enough to perform at the school's Christmas concert.

In April 1999, Ashgate Junior and Infant schools merged. Unsuccessful in his bid to become the head, Mr Roche instead, he took a job at Robert Jones Primary, in Nottingham. The school was in special measures when he arrived; within a term, it was on its way out.

But the Ashgate governors had learnt their lesson, and in September 1999 Mr Roche took up his new post as head of the all-through primary.

Two years later, he began to supplement this with part-time work as an Ofsted inspector.

He wanted to know how inspectors thought, to understand what they were looking for when they visited his own school. But at heart he remained a headteacher and considered the inspection process deeply flawed.

Eventually, 20 years of commuting from Nottingham began to take its toll and he resigned from Ashgate to work as a statementing officer for Nottingham education services. It would, he believed, be the start of a new chapter in his life.

At a special assembly on the last day of term, the governors presented him with a gift of three days with a personal fitness trainer. Pupils and staff bought him a day racing cars.

Term finished on Thursday; he was still in school on Tuesday, making plans for his successor. The following day, he died of a massive heart attack.

  • Robert Roche is survived by his wife, Ann, and by sons Jonathan, Andrew and Alex.

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