The right track;Interview;Sebastian Coe;My Best teacher;Parting Shots

10th April 1998 at 01:00
I went to a school called Tapton secondary modern in Sheffield. After I'd been there a year it became a comprehensive. I have rather a strange claim because in five years I experienced all three state systems - I did myA-levels at the sixth form of a grammar school.

My favourite teacher was David Jackson. I got to know David in my third year when he became my form master and he was also head of geography, which was a subject I always enjoyed.

He was 6ft 2in with not an ounce of fat on him. He ran for Derbyshire schools at cross-country and played very good hockey, good football and rugby and understood the pressures on somebody who had just started in competitive athletics.

I hope I'm not damaging his reputation as a teacher by saying this but he also used to take me for religious instruction and more often than not he would suggest it might not be a bad moment for me to go out and contemplate the greater universe by doing some training.

He was an extremely good teacher and inspired an interest in the subject. One of the times that he was very helpful was when I had to make a decision at the end of my third year asto whether to take French or geography.

I loved geography but my parents were pretty aghast at the thought of my giving up a language. David offered to take those that wanted to do geo-graphy and French. So he took six or seven of us through our geography O-level a year early. We used to do that during morning assembly so it made for quite a long day. But it was very typical of David that he offered to do it off his own bat and in his own time.

We kept in touch when I went to university and he would often write to me before and after a big event. Recently I did an advert for the Teacher Training Agency. He went to the cinema completely unprepared for this and saw me nominate him. He wrote me a very funny letter after that.

He just lived for sport and he understood that physical education wasn't something that you tuck away in the curriculum and dust down for sports days - it is an integral part of the education of any youngster.

He was a good disciplinarian but he engendered a great deal of affection among the kids. He was very calm but could be quite emotional on occasions. He made it his business to know as much about his pupils as he could - though not intrusively.

On the other hand he could also be tough. I do remember one occasion when I was rather full of myself having just won a Yorkshire title at a relatively young age and articles were beginning to appear in news-papers. I remember turning in a fairly sub-standard piece of work and he came down very heavily on me. It's a dreadful cliche, but he kept my feet on the ground.

I'm pretty sure he doesn't share my political views (being a Conservative in Sheffield in the 1970s was a pretty rough ride) but he knew I was always interested in politics and was very pleased when I became a Member of Parliament.

He was quite a moral guy. He taught me a lot about competition and he believed implicitly in the ethics of sport. I remember we were talking about why rules in sport are important and he was saying he remembered getting into trouble playing a rugby match when his foot drifted into touch unobserved by the referee - but he held his hands up. He got a drubbing from his team mates. He recognised that sport is at times extremely competitive but that it has to remain within recognisable boundaries. If it doesn't, then you lose its essence.

Sebastian Coe won gold and silver medals at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games. His world record for the 800 metres - set in 1979 - was bettered only last year. After retiring from athletics he was Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne from 1992 until 1997. He is now chief of staff and private secretary to William Hague, leader of the Opposition.He was talking to Harvey McGavin

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