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President NUT 1988-9; Secretary SEA 2002-7

Malcolm was first and foremost a committed teacher, dedicated to children and ensuring that each and everyone of them should have a full and stimulating education. He first appeared at a meeting of the newly formed Brent NUT in 1965 to discuss comprehensive education. Derek Tutchell, then Secretary of the Association records the event:

“The meeting was conducted rather soberly with general agreement that comprehensive education was desirable when a young, previously unknown teacher from Wembley stood up and made an electrifying speech about the iniquities of the 11+ – how it blighted children’s lives and there was urgent need for immediate action. The debate really took off at that point and we all realised we had someone very unusual in our Association.”

Malcolm was an ardent and very active supporter of the NUT, and in particular the Brent Association, from then until his retirement. He and Eva Tutchell set up a Young Teachers branch which held well attended meetings and supported the NUT Salaries Campaign then at its height, led by Max Morris, also a Brent NUT member. Max and Malcolm became close allies and friends from then onwards and Malcolm helped gather support for Max’s election to the NUT Executive in 1966. Malcolm became the NUT representative on the Brent Education Committee and spoke up for the principles it supported. He joined the Brent delegates to the NUT’s Annual Conferences and it was not long before his loud voice and forthright and well-argued contributions to debate were heard.

But then, in 1968, he decided to take part in a VSO project to support secondary education in Kenya and, along with his family, stayed there for four years teaching English in a pioneering secondary school. Malcolm had Christian beliefs, which may have inspired this decision, but he saw it as a wonderful experience and he became a champion of multicultural education both as a teacher and within the NUT, which he later successfully persuaded to get rid of its investments in South Africa as part of opposition to apartheid.

When he returned in 1972 he became Head of English in another pioneering secondary school, Willesden High School, one of the first large comprehensives set up after Crosland’s 1965 Circular, in a poor ethnically-mixed neighbourhood in Brent. It had brought together a Grammar School and a Secondary Modern School and Max Morris was its Head. His aim, which he later proved had been achieved, was to ensure that all the children who would have gone to a grammar school did equally well in the Comprehensive School. And those children who would have been in a secondary modern school had infinitely better opportunities and better results. Appointing Malcolm was seen by Max as a wonderful opportunity to have a Head of English sharing all his aspirations and with wide experience of teaching in a multicultural setting. Malcolm’s encouragement of drama productions was also to prove an asset and provided lots of enjoyment for children, teachers and parents.. Malcolm stayed in the school until he retired as Deputy Head.

Straight away on his return, Malcolm resumed his NUT activities: he became Secretary of the Brent Association and when Max was elected as President, Malcolm was elected to fill the vacancy on the NUT Executive for the 20 Outer London Boroughs – his election poster said “he was taking on the mantle of Morris”. It had become a custom accepted by Conference delegates that Brent Association would move the main Salaries motion, which meant Malcolm moved it after Max became President. His distinctive, robust style of speaking won him many supporters so Malcolm had no difficulty in being elected again later.

During most of the 1980’s Malcolm played a leading role as Chair of the NUT Salaries Committee, which dealt with pensions, conditions of service and health and safety as well as salaries – in effect all of the Union’s work except educational issues. This meant also being Chair of the Action Committee in the event of a strike. Malcolm saw striking as a last resort and was very critical of the ultra left members at Conference who advocated strikes at the drop of a hat. He knew that a strike to be effective had to have overwhelming support among members, frequent communications with parents in order to win and hold their support, clear objectives and good general publicity. This had been achieved in the successful strike at the end of 1969 and during the next few years the NUT was able to gain its objectives without striking. However after that teachers living standards and educational provision declined and all efforts at negotiation failed leaving strike action as the only way forward. Malcolm led the ensuing strikes of 1985-6 with determination and skilful strategy and made maximum use of the Union’s strike fund. The main salary objective was eventually achieved but in revenge the Government abolished the Burnham Committee, depriving the teachers of their traditional means of negotiation on salaries and conditions of service.

Two years later Malcolm was elected as President of the NUT. This was the period of the Baker Education Reform Acts which he saw as undermining comprehensive schooling. In his Presidential address he spoke against “ the heterogeneity and inequality of school provision – against which this great Union has always and will continue to fight, come Thatcher, come Baker, come all Hell against us”. He used his year to highlight the struggle against apartheid and oppression in Central America and the West Bank. He was also an advocate of professional unity, urging that teachers should speak with one voice and end “the nonsense” of seven competing organisations.

After his Presidential year, Malcolm resumed the role of Chair of the Salaries Committee until 1996 and was as involved as ever in campaigning for comprehensive education in all its forms. He was concerned at the role of far-left delegates at Annual Conferences; although few in number declining attendances at branch meetings meant that they punched above their weight and were beginning to win seats on the Executive. To combat this threat he helped to set up the NUT’s Broad Left group to mobilise support for realistic ways of pursuing the NUT’s aims. Many outstanding executive members and officers were elected under this banner for several years.

Once he retired from teaching it was evident that his organising and campaigning skills ought to be utilised and he was recruited by Max Morris, then a vice-President of the SEA, to become our General Secretary. The failure of the 1997 Labour Government to carry out its previous policy of ending selection had led to disputes within the SEA about whether its role was to support the Government at all times or openly criticise policies it didn’t agree with. This had been decided in favour of the role of “critical friend” before Malcolm became General Secretary and he took on that role with vigour. He felt strongly that the Government was losing its way on education, particularly in relation to selection, not only by failing to tackle the existence of Grammar Schools but also by the creation of a variety of schools with different status and funding – Foundation Schools, City Academies, specialist schools etc – all of which were operating forms of selection by aptitude and interviews. In a meeting in 2003 of an SEA deputation to Charles Clarke, then Secretary of State for Education, he pointed out that the destructive effects of selection on children were matched by discrimination on the basis of race, class, social behaviour and special needs. As well as organising the campaigns of the SEA for five years, he was also a leading figure in “Comprehensive Future”, a non party political organisation with the focus of ending selection and supporting the Comprehensive system. He joined the Labour Party but his main field of activity was always education.

Malcolm was always good natured and a pleasure to be with and happy to do the simple tasks of running the stall at conferences as well as speaking at meetings or on delegations. He always arrived with an enormous bag full of papers so he could give accurate information on any policy issue. Everyone was sorry when health problems began to prevent him getting to meetings, though he still kept in touch and his son, Simon, carries on his work both as a head teacher and as a member of the NUT and SEA.

Margaret Morris

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