Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Obituary - Stephen Szemerenyi 1942-2012: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Obituary - Stephen Szemerenyi 1942-2012: News

Article excerpt

Though he was not a natural union man, it was not entirely surprising that Stephen Szemerenyi became an expert in pay and conditions: he was committed to detail, logic and fairness.

Stephen Szemerenyi was born in Hungary in October 1942; his family moved to London after the Second World War. Unable to speak English, Stephen was placed in a primary classroom and expected to get on with it. (He did know one word: "sausages". This was not particularly well received when he offered it in answer to the teacher's questions.) This attitude stayed with him for life: he just got on with things.

He went on to read classics at Christ's College, Cambridge, and, after spending holidays volunteering at a school in Hackney, east London, eventually qualified as a teacher.

He took up a job at Highgate School in north London. A natural workaholic, Mr Szemerenyi told his wife, Jan, that his workload would decrease once he was more experienced. But then he became housemaster, and later boarding- house master, and somehow the workload never did decrease.

He joined a teaching union purely as a precautionary measure. But he had a keen sense of justice and, as chairman of the Highgate common room, would step in to help colleagues who were being treated unfairly by senior management.

Highgate, an independent school, did not offer him the chance to make the difference he had hoped for when entering the profession. And so he moved to the state sector, becoming deputy head of Hemel Hempstead School in Hertfordshire.

In 1983, he was appointed head of Finchley Catholic High in north London. …

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