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Tracey Emin's 'brilliant teacher'

By Sanchia Berg
Today programme, BBC Radio 4

Patrick Folkard
Patrick Folkard: "I was a bit of a show-off, I think children enjoy that."

"We had the most brilliant teacher. His name was Mr Folkard... he totally revolutionised our education." Tracey Emin, writing in the Independent in November 2006.

Today, Patrick Folkard is 76: long retired from teaching and living in Canterbury. But he still remembers Tracey Emin from Year 6, the last class of primary school, when he was her form teacher. She was, he recalls, a rather shy, timid girl, overshadowed by her louder twin brother.

Patrick Folkard recalls that other teachers considered him a bit eccentric and unconventional. He never went through teacher training college: "I never studied child psychology or anything like that".

He had done a diploma in Art, specialising in illustration and theatre design and went into teaching by chance, in the late 1950s. He had two job offers: one from a design studio, the other from a school. The school offered £50 more and he went for the money: something he regrets, though he did enjoy teaching enormously.

Mr Folkard says he tended to treat everything as a bit of a joke, which appealed to the children. "I tried to get them to be enthusiastic about things, interested in things, to enjoy things. You've got to get them to want to find out for themselves, to learn." He remembered how bored he had been at school himself.

Jane Asher, Michael Byrne and Jaye Jacobs in Waterloo Road
Waterloo Road details the lives of teachers in a fictional Rochdale school

But he never had any trouble with discipline. "Some people have it... some people don't," he says. "I was a bit of a show-off, I think children enjoy that."

He used images as often as possible in his teaching, explaining things by drawing, showing the class lots of art and he encouraging the children's own skills.

This included getting them to make their own versions of great paintings: Cezanne rather than Old Masters. But Mr Folkard couldn't remember whether Tracey Emin was outstanding at art. He said it is hard to tell at that age.

His most famous former pupil commissioned a piece for the Today programme about the status of teachers. She wondered whether it had fallen in recent years, thanks to negative portrayals on TV.

Remembering Please Sir! from the early 1970s, she contrasted this with the Channel 4 drama "teachers", 30 years later.

Patrick Folkard says he does not have any strong feelings about the matter, saying that he had not really watched teaching drama on TV.

And he told me he didn't really care about the "status" of the profession, though others - like his first wife - did, adding that he judged people rather for who they were, rather than for the job they held.

Reversal of fortune

Please, Sir! paints an affectionate picture of teaching. It inspired Sean O'Regan, head of Edith Neville School in London, to go into the profession.

He remembers there was something "heroic" about the young schoolmaster, played by John Alderton, doing his best for the inner city teenagers.

Sean's own school, in one of the most deprived parts of London, is judged "outstanding" by Ofsted and he is recognised by many as an outstanding head.

The screenwriter Tim Loane recognised that the status of the profession had fallen when he created "teachers" for Channel 4 in 2000.

Michael Sheard as Grange Hill's Mr Bronson
Michael Sheard as Grange Hill's fearsome Mr Bronson

His series shows a group of young teachers, whose drinking, smoking and chaotic sex lives hardly make them role models, and some of whom would clearly prefer to do another job.

He says that he sensed teaching had lost respectability - that it had become more like being a civil servant.

In fact, "teachers" coincided with a historic low in teacher status and recruitment, according to Oxford University's Professor John Howson.

In 2002-3 the government had to bring in teachers from abroad and there were even concerns that children would be sent home, so acute was the shortage. But, in a few short years, that reversed. And recently teaching has become far more popular.

A good indicator of status is how many graduates from top universities want to teach. When Sean O'Regan was studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University in the 1980s, he remembers being the only student who wanted to go into primary education.

There were people applying to become secondary school teachers - often a bit reluctantly. But last year nearly 300 undergraduates applied to the Teach First programme, which offers a fast track into the profession.

And what about Mr Folkard? He told me he didn't have any strong feelings about the status of the profession. He said he judged people by who they were, not their job title.


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