RSVP Recognises the efforts of both Schools and volunteers

Published on January 23, 2017 under Schools

RSVP Recognises the efforts of both Schools and volunteers

BANES and South Gloucestershire schools together with their RSVP volunteers who work with pupils to help with reading and numeracy, were honoured recently at a RSVP sponsored reception, in Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI), a fitting venue in which to recognise the importance of learning.

Stephen Ward, from Bath Spa University, presented certificates of recognition emphasising the importance of reading in helping children flourish.

Stephen has led an interesting life and we thought that it would be of interest to others if we published a résumé of his life and thoughts.

Emeritus Professor Stephen Ward, to give him his full title (or maybe not, he’s a modest man and may have distinctions he neglects to enumerate), falls into an increasingly common category: the unretiring retiree.

Having spent all his working life in education, the last 36 at Bath Spa University, taking it from Newton Park Teacher Training College to one of the most widely acclaimed academic institutions in the country, Stephen Ward continues to write and edit textbooks about the theory and practice of education and remains closely involved with the University.

Now seventy, he and his wife Heather – also a teacher and writer, of music textbooks – had looked forward to slowing down a little, to jaunts abroad (Iceland, most recently) and time with grandchildren, but they are busier than ever.

Originally from Leeds, where Stephen attended the same grammar school as Alan Bennett, the Wards trained in Coventry and taught in the Midlands, until their move to Bath.

The Robbins Report of 1963 recommended that universities expand and that all teachers should be graduates; Stephen was one of the first students on the new Bachelor of Education course, and was immediately fascinated by meeting Freud, Jung and Kierkegaard. Other students were less interested and adopted an “I didn’t learn anything about teaching until I got into schools” attitude, and although Stephen loved the philosophy and psychology he was being exposed to, he admits that the course was not properly linked to classroom teaching and that he found actual teaching quite difficult.

At his graduation the Deputy Principal, identifying his gift, suggested that he take a Master’s degree in education studies, as he was clearly much more interested in theory.

Eventually, under Stephen’s aegis, Bath Spa set up the first four-year education course: three years leading to a BA in Education Studies, followed by a one-year post-grad course (PGC) in teaching. Some students chose not to take the PGC, but the BA was designed to stand independently as an academic subject, like history or economics, and was intellectually rigorous and highly regarded.

Having spent a career in education, and as a father and grandfather, Stephen has always been involved in the lives and expectations of the young. His own experience of being exposed to classical music as a boy in Leeds, and the great thinkers as a student teacher in Coventry, has reinforced his belief that such exposure provides a rich inner life that informs and sustains us throughout our lives. (His greatest criticism of modern education policy is that it narrows children’s academic experience to the extent that they are denied the opportunity to explore music, the arts – ideas that might not fit into a rigid curriculum but which encourage thought, experiment and interest in further learning.)

Stephen is philosophical about growing older. Our bodies, and often our minds, start to deteriorate, but having the hinterland of knowledge and experience, and maintaining an interest in life, does much to mitigate the danger of ‘retirement depression’.

One can only hope that today’s children, having to a large extent replaced real experiences with digital ones, will be able to call upon a meaningful body of knowledge to comfort them in due course. He applauded the efforts of the RSVP and other volunteers who work with schools. They offer children the chance for individual attention, sometimes the only thing preventing a student from having the confidence to progress. They have life experiences that lend a certain perspective to both parties. And they are not wielding a big red pen to mark down mistakes; rather they are there only to praise and encourage.

As Stephen is the first to admit, he is a lucky man, successful in his chosen field and at ease with himself. He had one of his most profound breakthroughs in teaching when a boy he’d hitherto regarded as ’a bit of a thug’ revealed both his sensitive side and an astonishing flair for the poetic, describing in a private journal how he’d stood watching the glittering saxophones revolving in the music shop window. Little did young Whetstone know that Stephen was an accomplished saxophone player himself: a human connection was made.

The boy received no extra marks, the school couldn’t congratulate itself on a higher Ofsted rating, but it’s hard to believe that this brief moment didn’t continue to resonate with that music-loving student for many years. It certainly has with his teacher.


A BIG Thank You from RSVP West !