I went through the middle-school process, which was an absolutely howling failure. My year was the first to experience this awful experiment and the school we attended, Gidlow Middle School in Wigan, was nowhere near ready for us. It was a building site.
I think we all felt that we lost a year of education in 1972-73. It was a pointless waste of time, during which a lot of pupils lost all interest in studying and lots of teachers lost all interest in teaching. We had to clamber over rubble to get from one classroom to the next; the effect was disillusionment.
After Gidlow, I went to Whitley High School. Mrs Turner, my English teacher, was an utterly inspiring breath of fresh air who recognised what a tough time we’d had. She focused her attention on re-injecting confidence into those who had had it knocked out of them.
She was incredibly passionate about her subject, and when someone is passionate like that you can’t help but be intoxicated by it. She had me completely engrossed in Shakespeare and in Steinbeck. She had this wonderful way of saying, “Give this play a go, Kay, and see what you think of it.” It never felt as if books were forced on us. It was like she was lending us something she’d just read, that week, for the first time.
She wasn’t a disciplinarian. Definitely not. But if she looked over her glasses at you, then you knew. She could achieve total silence from a pupil with just one look over those specs.
Mrs Turner made me think that she cared whether I did well or not. And I suspect she absolutely did care. She assured me when I didn’t understand, then she set about teaching me to understand better. That came down to listening. You really felt that she listened and understood, and that was so reassuring. Reassurance, I think, is the key to a good teacher, along with patience, quiet intelligence and the ability to instil confidence in children.
As my son has grown up and gone through the system, I’ve seen how much of a thankless task teaching can be. But also how rewarding it can be, to see someone improve and achieve as a direct result of your help.
She was amazing, Mrs Turner, she really was. I often think about her, 40 years on. I do hope that she’s still with us today. Hopefully, she has seen me on the TV from time to time and maybe taken a bit of pride in that. I dearly hope so.
Mrs Turner was nurturing. I was never confident enough to even read out loud in class, but she would see that and come over to me and talk it through, one-on-one. By doing that she improved my confidence no end, so she absolutely has had an impact on my career.
If it hadn’t been for her, given the experience I had at middle school, I don’t know where I would be today. Probably mopping a step in Wigan.
Kay Burley was speaking to Tom Cullen. She will be hosting Cancer Research UK’s Bags, Bangles and Brooches fundraising event on 30 November, part of the charity’s Women of Influence campaign to support female scientists. www.bagsbanglesandbrooches.com
Sky’s the limit
Born 17 December 1960, Wigan
Education Gidlow Middle School and Whitley High School,
both in Wigan
Career Television newsreader and presenter; has been a news anchor for Sky News since 1988