“I couldn’t believe that this fantastic occasion was being organised to celebrate the quality of teachers who worked so hard and with such commitment, in our schools. I was humbled by the occasion. I was so proud of my profession.”
Tony Maxwell, the Award for Lifetime Achievement Award 2003
Former Headteacher, St Michael’s Roman Catholic Comprehensive School, Billingham, Teesside
I received my award in October, in 2003, at the London Palladium, having retired at the end of the previous academic year. I qualified as a teacher in 1966 and spent the next 37 years as a teacher at the same school, St Michael’s in Billingham, on Teesside.
I was nominated by Paul, a year 9 pupil. I had taught his parents 36 years before and his older brothers in more recent years. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on having my deputy progress the nomination when we received notification from the Teaching Awards Trust. She insisted that the school should support Paul’s kind gesture.
The whole experience was wonderful and really quite unbelievable. After a series of meetings with judges I was called back to my school in September, for some filming to take place for the awards ceremony but never thought that I would be anything but a runner-up. There are so many outstanding teachers at every level of the educative process. I almost missed out on the ticket allocation for the national ceremony as I was in France when the tickets were being allocated. Luckily, I got some of the last tickets available and still had no idea of just what a fantastic occasion the awards ceremony would be.
From arriving at the Tower Hotel, on the banks of the Thames, the experience will live with me for the rest of my life. I couldn’t believe that this fantastic occasion was being organised to celebrate the quality of teachers who worked so hard and with such commitment, in our schools. I was humbled by the occasion. I was so proud of my profession.
Arriving at the theatre I still didn’t consider myself to be a possible winner. The Palladium was packed to the roof and the atmosphere was electric. I loved every moment of it, relaxing in the belief that I was having a wonderful time, grateful that I was part of this fabulous experience and ready to applaud the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, as always, the last award to be presented at the ceremony.
It was an extra source of pleasure that the award was being presented by Sir Bobby Charlton, a fellow north-easterner and a football hero.
It was only when the film, preceding the announcement of the winner, started to be shown on the screen that I realise it was showing my school. My wife and two colleagues who were seated with me turned to me and said, “You’ve won”. I still couldn’t believe it as the hand-held camera was busy filming the man behind me.
I suppose a little bit of panic set-in at that moment when I suddenly realised that I hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech. Despite everything that happened, I never, for a moment thought that it would be me receiving the award.
What an emotional experience. It is said that when a person is drowning, the whole of their life passes before their eyes. In a split second I thought of my mam and dad, my family, colleagues, pupils. So many people who were no longer with us to share the celebration. I just wanted to thank everybody for what they had done for me. I know that I could only say so much, or I would reach the emotional line and would not be able to continue. I am told that, when the announcement was made, my daughter, sitting high up in the “Gods” screamed, “That’s my dad!”
It gave me enormous pleasure to be able to thank Lord David Putnam for creating the whole Teaching Awards concept for celebrating the wonderful work that goes on in our schools. I was able to thank him personally, too, as he was walking onto the stage as I was walking off.
Everyone was so generous in their congratulations. Fifteen years later, former pupils, colleagues and parents still refer back to my winning the award. I think that they feel that there is a shared honour in my receiving it.
THE JOB, CHANGES AND CHALLENGES
It was highly unusual for someone to stay at the same school as, in order to progress in the profession, a teacher would have to move schools every few years. But I joined St Michael’s as an art teacher when it was a Secondary Modern School with fewer than 300 pupils and I retired as headteacher after it had become a Specialist School for Science and Mathematics.
The changes in education over my 37-year career have been immense. The most significant being the introduction of Comprehensive Schools across most of the country.
Perhaps the lowest point in the school’s history was the threat of closure between 1984-88. The high points being winning the battle to continue in 1988 and its listing in the top 80 performing schools in the UK in 2002. And in my final year, as headteacher St Michael’s was starting to receive pupils who were the grandchildren of pupils that I had taught in 1966!
I loved my job and the many different roles that I filled during my career. There were some tough times but also so many happy times. The one continuous source of pleasure and satisfaction was working with young people and their families. I had built a reputation amongst the community as someone who cared for our children and who would always go the extra mile for them. We were not situated in the most affluent area of the country but that was never going to stop us from providing our children with every opportunity to access every learning experience that was available. I look at so many strategies that are now considered to be the “norm” in good and outstanding schools and St Michael’s was at the forefront in their implementation.
THE TEACHING PROFESSION
My teaching career was largely over but I continued to be involved in education matters in my community, writing articles for a local newspaper, sitting on various panels, representing my diocese on the local council’s scrutiny committee for education and serving as the diocesan education adviser.
In 2003 I was invited to become a judge with the Teaching Awards Trust, identifying educationalists who were worthy of receiving an award for their contribution to schools. It provided me with an ideal opportunity to give something back for all of the wonderful times that I had as a teacher. Fourteen year later, in 2017, at the end of the judging process, I decided to retire from that role. I have loved every minute of my involvement, visiting so many schools and being reassured that fantastic work is being done in our schools by outstanding and committed colleagues.
I went into teaching without really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was a working-class boy from a working-class family. In those days opportunities were limited. Few went on to further education and fewer went on to join a profession. I attended a tough Secondary Modern, all boys, School.
A few weeks ago, I met a former school friend and his wife. She commented on how some boys from my old school had done well for themselves. “One had even become a head teacher of an outstanding school”. Her husband pointed at me and said, “That was Tony”.