Teacher-turned- publisher who supports local talent

4th February 2000 at 00:00
IN SALTAIRE, the model industrial village built by Titus Salt to house the spinners and weavers of the Industrial Revolution, the builders are at work. On one side lies Filtronic, a multinational electronics company that grew in the aftermath of Thorn's closure. On the other is Pace, an expanding digital company. In between, the foundations have been laid for a centre of excellence to develop and disseminate multimedia. It is the brainchild of Bob Gomersall, until July 1997 head of physics at Bradford Grammar School.

Gomersall is the eminence grise of the Virtual College and is an energetic entrepreneur who has, as a sideline while teaching full- time, built up BTL Publishing, a successful software and educational materials business that has now been running for 14 years.

He has an eye for spotting talent and has recruited many of his former pupils, including its business development manager John Winkley, to work in his business. And when BTL became involved with the local FE college and other businesses developing training materials, he recognised in Rod Knox, the managing director, a man with the technical experience and expertise to complement his own publishing know-how at the Virtual College.

One of his passions is technology - a subject he thinks the British do not take seriously enough. He spent years trying to convince exam boards, local authorities and pupils themselves that there should be a more constructive attitude to the subject. In 1984, he pioneered electronics A-level with some of his Bradford pupils, a move that typifies his attitude: if you know what needs to be done and bureaucracy stops you doing it, then bypass it nd get the job done. It is Bradford's can-do philosophy in practice.

"The British approach to technology is to ignore it," he says, "or to pay it lip-service - often because of ignorance at key decision-making levels - but it will not do. Genuine wealth creation depends on fast-growing, value-adding businesses and the key to these is good technology.

"In turn, the key to good technology is that our brightest and best students study science, mathematics and engineering to the highest levels. This is not only so that we can have research and development of the highest quality, but so that in the future we can have key decision-makers who know what they are talking about."

What happened at Filtronic illustrates the point. The company, which makes electronics components for mobile phones and the arms industry, is led by David Rhodes, who is also professor of electronics and electrical engineering at Leeds University.

Like Gomersall, Rhodes was worried that not enough pupils were studying further maths, a qualification essential in providing him with future scientists. When he asked the local authority what could be done about it, he was dissatisfied with the reply.

So now Filtronic pays pupils pound;1,000 as an incentive to take suitable A-levels, takes them on work experience while they are at school and gives them paid holiday work to help finance them through university.

It also pays a lump sum to four local schools to ensure they can teach the subject. And for the past four years about 30 A-level students in each year at nine schools in the area have benefited from the scheme. The can-do philosophy is at work again.

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