Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to a scarce 'old' and tireless Prince of Teacher Trainers called Paul Ginnis

Paul, who described himself in his twitter profile as : 'Young at heart, Stoke City FC season ticket holder, driver for The Zombies, roadie for Southside Johnny, jukebox owner' and with perfect self-effacement : ' author, education trainer and consultant', has died at the age of fifty-nine.
In his twenty-two years as a freelance trainer, Paul inspired many thousands of teachers in over three thousand primary, secondary and special schools and Colleges of Further and Higher Education, both at home and abroad, to examine what they did in their classrooms and by the power of his arguments and strength of his personality, convinced them to implement change.

What you possibly didn't know about Paul, that he :

* was born in 1955 in Leek, Staffordshire, the son of a father who was a joiner and grandfather who had been a coal miner who, when he was six years old, told him stories about his Army service in the First World War and, later in life, kept his promise to take the old man back to the battlefields of Ypres and Cloth Hall Museum, where the staff saluted him.

* was almost certainly unaware that, when he was five years old in 1961, Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent formed 'The Zombies' in St.Albans, nine when they recorded 'She's Not There', which he rated, when he was fifty-seven years old, as 'one of the greatest songs of all time' and ten when they recorded 'Tell Her No'.

* for his secondary education, joined Sandbach School, Cheshire, which, dating from 1677, had been and independent boarding school for boys, but was unique in that, in 1955, it was funded by Cheshire LEA and the Learning Skills Council and by the time he joined in 1966, was a 'new' Grammar School for Boys in South Cheshire with all of its traditions intact.

* would have quickly learnt the school motto, 'Ut Severis Seges' and its rough translation : 'As you sow, so shall you reap' and quickly recognised the figure of the Headmaster, John Bowles and teacher, Geoff Pigott, who he met again in 2014 and when he was, fourteen, in 1969, quite possibly made his first vinyl acquaintance with his future pop heroes, 'The Zombies' who released their 'Time of the Season' in that year.

 * left school in the early 1970s and joined University College, Durham as an undergraduate studying for a Theology Degree, where the College Master, D.W.McDowall, would have been a familiar figure and considered the city his 'spiritual home' where he 'stopped off for half an hour' on occasion in his fifties 'just to breathe the holy air' and after teacher training, began life as a 'probationary teacher' in Sutton Coldfield in 1979 at the age of twenty-four and three years later started work in an inner city boys secondary school in Birmingham and later recalled his first RE lesson with the lads  : '15 arms-folded Y11 boys defied me to make them sit down'.

* later acknowledged, he came under the 'deepest and most pervasive influence' of Dr Donna Brandes, who in 1979 had published the 'Gamesters' Handbook' of 140 games for teachers and group leaders, who 'brought into my young professional life, at a time when I am ashamed to say that students called me “Hitler”, a coherent person-centred philosophy and skill set. The ideas stretched me to the limit but resonated strongly with the deep values of my theological training and so created the kind of congruence in my teaching that I had been seeking'

 * further acknowledged his debt to Donna who : 'taught me how to trust students, how to be myself in the classroom, how to pursue the goals of self-esteem and personal responsibility above all and let everything else fall into place. A master practitioner herself, she showed me the power of optimism, unconditional regard and self-belief' and lamented her death at the age of eighty in 2013 and his loss of  'a dear friend & long-time mentor'  who 'taught me the ways of student-centred learning, she believed in me and I couldn't do what I do without her wisdom.'

* became a Head of an R.E. Department in Birmingham and invited the singer 'Cat Stevens', to his school and his house for tea, who by this time, had converted to Islam and adopted the name 'Yusuf Islam' and expanded his career into staff development with his : 'A Guide to Student Centred Learning' written with Donna and published when he was thirty-one in 1986 and was out of the classroom as a Local Authority Adviser when he published 'The Student Centred School' in 1990 and two years later, made the leap, at the age of thirty-seven, and set himself up as a freelance trainer.

* after a decade as am independent provider, brought his ideas together in 'The Teacher's Toolkit' in 2001, reviewed by Tim Brighouse, Chief Education Officer in Birmingham as 'one of those rare and precious books which has that uncanny knack of revealing explicitly to you things about teaching which you knew instinctively all along but had never thought about so clearly.'

* in 2009, at the age of fifty-four, made an adolescent dream come true as driver and roadie for 'The Zombies' on their national ‘Odessey and Oracle’ tour and in 2011 roadied for 'Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' in Scandinavia over Easter and commented, with : '3700 miles on the road. It was a real education' but had to turn down work on their UK tour in October 2012 'due to work! Priorities, priorities'.

* saw his ‘magnum opus’, 'The Teacher's Handbook' go into its 12th reprint and said in 2011 that he felt honoured that it 'is now published in Arabic. Adds to the Indonesian, Hungarian and Slovenian editions' and by then, as a freelance provider, in twenty-four years had worked in over 3,500 schools in Britain and 60 or so in international schools in the Middle East, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe.

* demonstrated his powers of persuasion in 2012 when filmed delivering the final session of the 'Annual Symposium of the National Association of Principles and Deputy Principles' in Dublin, when he :

- began by emphasising the need for change in education, using a sequence of slides showing failed attempts to raise a car from a habour pier, to demonstrate Einstein's definition of insanity : 'Doing the same thing in the same way and expecting the same result'.

- presupposed that his audience were signed-up agents of change in the move to get pupils to take more and more responsibility for their own learning involving much professional development of the staff which : "involves a shift of mindset and that's a considerable operation. Yourselves are crucial to that, of course, and I imagine that you will before long want to map out the resources and the strategy for bringing about this multi-layered professional development that's going to be required.'

- gave his audience a taste of student-centred learning by splitting them into groups of three, in the context of a Year 8 History lesson and asking them to produce solutions to four problems faced by the Mogul Emperor, Akbar in the sixteenth century and inadvertently showed how easily they fell into the pupil-teacher relationship.

*  joined Twitter in 2011 with : 'First tweet. I feel young again' and subsequently over the next four years was a regular tweeter, giving his views on the fortunes of :

His beloved Stoke City Football Club :
'After a day at the desk, I'm off to Stoke City's first European match in 37 years. Been a long wait. I'm so excited.'........'Great way to start a misty Japanese morning - news that Stoke City managed a draw against Dynamo Kiev. Unbeaten so far this season.'.......'Phew, what a relief! Great win for the Potters. Football does wonders for the soul.' .......'My friend Prof Roland Meighan, a West Brom supporter, always says "it's not the despair that's hard to live with, it's the hope!" ..........'When I lived in Coleshill I used to watch Coventry sometimes, then decided that it was bad for my health.' ........'Nerves will soon kick in: Stoke v Swansea this afternoon. I'll be there feeling the contradictory emotions of optimism and fear.'

His Music :
'Enjoyed Tarantino's Django on the plane. Tarantino and I have the same jukebox: AMI Continental 2, 1962.'.......'Great Rhythm Fest - check Oli Brown, young British blues guitarist. Buzzcocks - barrier collapsed and I was at bottom of pile. Very adolescent.'........'Jools Holland good, Sandie Shaw fun, but Ruby Turner stole the show - best black female voice in the country. Jaw-dropping range and power.' .......'A day at the desk today. I say this in a whisper, but I think I might download some Barclay James Harvest. Am in need of revisiting my youth.' ......'Paul Weller says my mates 'The Zombies' Odyssey and Oracle' is his 'perfect album.'......'Discovered a great little venue in Crewe - The Box. Waiting for Andy Fairweather-Low on stage.'

His Politics :
'I oppose the UK's underpinning Victorian, industrial, Thatcherite business model of education, with its roots in competition and aggression.'.........'How come we let a bunch of narrow-minded, nationalistic, nostalgia-driven, born-to-rule individuals with limited experience rule over us?'.......'Had a morning with Tony Benn at his home a few years ago. He's been an inspiration since I was a lad, due to my socialist grandfather.'.......'Gove, exactly how will your new exams make us 'more competitive' when they won't assess the skills that industry, society & the world needs?'......'Can't believe this. The Government's values and mine are so disconnected. It doesn't feel like my country anymore.'

His views about education :
'As I see it, the price we're paying for raising 'standards' is a diminishing of the qualities needed for a healthy democratic society.'...... 'Phases of teaching and learning : active/student-centred learning (1980s); accelerated/brain-based learning (1990s); thinking skills/L2L (2000s); Ofsted (now).'....... 'Teaching is the world's most important job. For those of us who feel nervous, it's natural. We don't want to mess up.'......'A repeat pattern over here (in Japan) as in the UK, is that kids are very independent in the Early Years, then become steadily less so with age.'.......' There are many things that we mere mortals can do nothing about. Dull teaching is not one of them.'......'International comparisons? Many of our teachers are among the best in the world; some of the circumstances they work in are among the worst.'......'Conviction, encouragement, gentle persuasion and permission to 'try and try again' seem to be some of the keys to strong leadership.'......'I am saying that working class kids seem to do less well in one-shot, end-of-course papers for reasons other than intelligence.'......'Wherever you go in the world, the teaching and learning issues are pretty much the same. There are universal truths about the human brain.'.....'I've been teaching for 33 years and I still get butterflies at the start of each term.'

*  was planning to work alongside teachers in the British School Manila for ten days in March and made his last tweet on 30th January : 'Superb chapter in 'Learning with e's'. Old Theories, New Contexts. It's important to understand education's past giants.'

* in 2011 sent two tweets out to his followers which might serve as his epitaph :
First half of a Mark Twain quote:
'Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that
Second half of the Mark Twain quote:
... but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.'



  1. Great article, very heartening to read. I knew Paul well and worked with him and Donna Brandes back in the eighties. He was a hero.
    Ted Harvey

  2. Great article, very heartening to read. I worked with Paul and Donna Brandes back in the eighties. He was a hero.