Sir, what's a punk?

24th October 2003 at 01:00
The ripped clothes and affectedly obnoxious behaviour may be long gone, but the spirit lives on. Karen Hooper meets a besuited forty-something ICT teacher whose rediscovered passion for punk is spurring him on in the classroom

It's not just in the classroom that advanced skills teacher Richard Jackson has achieved celebrity status. From his home in Rotherham, south Yorkshire, to the cybershores of New Zealand, he's been boosting his street cred as the driving force behind, a website dedicated to the 1970s punk band Penetration. And the spin-off of this unlikely alliance is benefiting Richard's pupils, as he uses the experience to polish his primary class's own online project.

Teaching was not on Richard's agenda when he first met the band while studying for his degree in electronic engineering at Liverpool University.

He'd photographed them at a gig for the student arts magazine Sphinx, and when Penetration next played at the university's Mountford Hall, on November 2, 1979, he gave them some prints.

"It was the band's second to last gig before they split up and I asked them for a lift to London to see their final show," Richard remembers. "There was no room for me, but they promised they'd get me into the gig if I could get to Camden." So he hitched. "The band even waved to me as their bus passed me on the M62," he says. "They were a great bunch of people and they trusted me enough to let me sleep in their van with all their equipment after the gig."

That was the last time Richard was to see or hear of Penetration for 23 years. He had an "early mid-life crisis" at 22 and went off to see the world, working in navigation electronics for a US company, "making large bangs and recording the echoes". He decided he wanted to teach and went on to gain his PGCE in physics, science and computer studies at the University of Durham. He got a job at the city's Framwellgate Moor comprehensive in 1984 where he taught physics, electronics and science. In 1986 he gained an advanced diploma in computers in the curriculum.

In 1987, Richard's life was turned upside down with the death of his wife, Liz, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Laura. Being inspired by his pupils helped him through his bereavement, but the crisis also led him to realise he wanted a change from science teaching. "When I did my degree, everyone was being told the future was in electronics, but my heart was always in the humanities," he says.

He left Framwellgate Moor in 1988, retrained as a primary teacher and taught at various primary schools in Durham. He did Open University courses (applied ethics and arts foundation) "as a way of getting back into a social life", moved to Rotherham in 1992, and in 1993 married Kay. They have two children, Anoushka, 10, and Charlie, eight.

It was during those years with a young family, working at Brampton Ellis CE junior school as an ICT and science co-ordinator, that the old punk flame was re-ignited. "I was teaching a hard-working Year 5 group who wanted to do a school website, which was then a new thing. I saw the internet as a blank canvas that could be used as a way of understanding the world. I decided to experiment at home."

For practice, Richard used his old Penetration photographs, badges and posters to create a four-page website. It wasn't long before the website was reconnecting Penetration fans keen to share their stories. "I didn't realise there were so many out there. Kay was working nights as a nurse and the website became my creative outlet. I taught myself to set up a chatroom and message board. Of course, I couldn't go into school and use the word 'penetration' to a class of Year 5s, but the challenge of the website renewed my enthusiasm for work."

The project opened up another universe for Richard, demonstrating that websites were all about creating communities.

In 2001, an email from someone called Steve Wallace arrived. Penetration had plans to resurface, and Steve was the band's new guitarist. "He told me the band liked my website and were planning to play again." They played a gig in Sunderland in January 2002, and fans turned up from as far as the Netherlands. "The band were testing the water and the website was the thermometer; by 2002 things had snowballed."

Richard's own career was also gathering momentum. In 2002 he gained advanced skills teacher status and moved into the Kimberworth Excellence in Cities action zone, delivering ICT support to schools in Rotherham. He also became an accredited trainer for Digital Brain, a web-based system for communication and resource-sharing between schools. Now he is working with Creative Partnerships two days a week, co-ordinating arts projects in schools until Christmas. He also works one day a week with schools in the new North-west Rotherham action zone. The other two days he teaches Year 6 at Meadowhall junior school.

Meadowhall's headteacher, Tony French, says: "Richard is a very accomplished IT teacher and we're lucky to have him." And his outside interest produces lots of merriment in the staffroom. "He wears a suit here, but I expect him one day to turn up with a ring through his nose," says Mr French.

In May this year Richard went on a creative teaching exchange to Sweden, looking at ways to motivate pupils using multimedia. By coincidence, The Buzzcocks, another punk band who often shared the bill with Penetration in the late 1970s, were playing the night he arrived in Stockholm, but his plane was delayed and he missed the gig by five minutes.

Nothing has stopped him seeing every show Penetration have played since they resurfaced with original drummer Gary Smallman, original bassist Rob Blamire and new guitarists Steve Wallace and Paul Harvey. "Penetration fans have gone from punk to pseudo-respectability," says Richard. "I met a teacher via the website who had promoted a gig in Derby a week before his school's Ofsted inspection."

More recently, Richard created a separate commercial site for the band,; the name comes from a track on the band's first album, Moving Targets. Penetration's singer, Pauline Murray, is relaxed about the band's new phase. "It's liberating not to feel pressure from anyone," she says before the gig at the Empire in London's Shepherd's Bush, to promote the band's new DVD, Penetration Re-animated.

Pauline pursued her own projects after Penetration split. She married Rob Blamire; they have two children and have spent 13 years running a rehearsal and recording studio. The band has been overwhelmed by the potential of the internet for reaching their fans, Pauline says. "Richard is doing a great job." On stage that night her powerful delivery of such Penetration favourites as "Don't Dictate" takes forty-somethings back to their youth - some even attempt to pogo.

From the sound desk, Richard videos these classic moments. Fans seek him out. In a few hours the community will be in conference in cyberspace. But for Richard, now 44, there's only one place to be after the gig - at the band's hotel, sleeping on the floor.

Richard Jackson's sites: www.loversofoutrage.;'s site: band plays Ashton-under-Lyne (Witchwood) on October 29; Derby (Victoria Inn) on October 30; Bristol (Bierkeller) on November 30; The Charlotte, Leicester, on December 5; The Casino, Berlin, on December 6

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