Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Bewhiskered Head with the Victorian Values: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Bewhiskered Head with the Victorian Values: News

Article excerpt

Controversial former schools minister Sir Rhodes Boyson dies aged 87.

Sir Rhodes Boyson, the cane-wielding headteacher and Conservative MP, was renowned as much for his controversial views on corporal punishment, comprehensive schools and gay rights as he was for his no-nonsense approach, sideburns and broad Lancashire accent.

The former politician, who has died aged 87, with his mutton-chop whiskers and Victorian values, was a character who could have stepped straight from the pages of a Dickens novel. Even his fellow MPs gave him the nickname Wackford Squeers after the brutal schoolmaster in Nicholas Nickleby.

Born in Rossendale in 1925, Sir Rhodes was originally brought up as an old-fashioned socialist and represented Labour as a local councillor. But he turned his back on the Left after becoming disillusioned with socialism and its championing of comprehensive education.

He failed the 11-plus but still managed to attend Haslingden Grammar School, thanks to an aunt who paid his fees. It was there that Sir Rhodes learned first hand about the supposed merits of strict discipline. Although he was an accomplished reader, he discovered he could not "number", so his teacher "thumped" him for 10 minutes and "by God, I numbered within a week".

After studying Greek and philosophy at University College Cardiff, Sir Rhodes eventually went into teaching and enjoyed a highly successful career as a headteacher, beginning at Lea Bank School in Rossendale, a secondary modern, where he introduced exam courses for his pupils well before the days of the CSE.

In the early 1960s, Sir Rhodes moved to London to become head of Robert Montefiore School, an East End secondary modern, before taking up his final headship at the newly created Highbury Grove School, a comprehensive in Islington, North London.

It was here that Sir Rhodes grew his famous facial hair, as part of a deal with sixth formers who in return agreed to cut their long hair. The head brought to Highbury Grove his characteristically unflinching approach to discipline, where the cane featured prominently. Parents loved the approach so much that the school became the most oversubscribed in London.

Sir Peter Newsam, former chief education officer at the Inner London Education Authority, worked at the organisation during Sir Rhodes' time at Highbury Grove and said that, while his approach was not always approved of, he ran a very stable school. …

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