Jean Costerton obituary

Other lives: Headteacher of nursery schools in some of the most deprived areas of south London with a keen interest in the theory of child development

My aunt, Jean Costerton, who has died aged 89, was a teacher and then a headteacher in some of the poorest nursery schools in south London, including Clyde nursery school in Deptford, and Kintore Way nursery school in Bermondsey.

In 1973, she was seconded to be a nursery adviser to London schools, and was part of the team that established Educational Home Visiting, funded by the Inner London Education Authority, for very young children. She understood the meaning of play in child development and was a great storyteller.

The eldest of three daughters of Val and Zara Costerton, Jean was born in Camberwell, south London. Aged nine, she was operated on for peritonitis and required blood transfusions. Jean believed that the impeccable standard of nursing at Guy's hospital ultimately saved her life. She was able to return to Mary Datchelor school in Camberwell two years later, but was readmitted with complications in 1940 and survived the bombing of Guy's during the blitz.

Jean studied at the Rachel McMillan teacher-training college, Deptford, and took up her first teaching post, choosing to specialise in nursery education. As her confidence grew, she felt able to introduce her own teaching methods and play materials. She said she never had discipline problems – she could identify children with behavioural issues and ensure they got the individual attention that they needed.

Jean was always keen to learn. She completed a child development course at the Institute of Education, London University, attended conferences and travelled to the US for a Nursery School Association summer school in 1972. She became a keen European traveller and learned Italian to converse on her holidays in Tuscany. She was a lifelong member of the Labour party and proud supporter of the Co-Operative Bank. After retirement, she became a licensed lay reader in the Church of England. Her ministry was at St Luke's, Whyteleafe, Surrey.

Jean was an organised and straightforward person. She planned her move to Glen Arun, then a home for retired schoolteachers, in Horsham, West Sussex, in 2008. She sold her house and gave away almost everything she had, and enjoyed this enormously. She joined a new church community nearby, at St Leonard's, Horsham, and continued her ministry there and in Glen Arun.

She was much loved by her nephews and nieces and taught us to play cards, Scrabble and many other games. She loved sport, especially cricket, and was able to converse with everyone about something, because she had so many interests.

Jean is survived by her sister, Mary, and by her nieces and nephews, Annabel, Matthew and Jon Marsh, James and Sebastian Hammond, and me.

Rachel Reidy

The GuardianTramp

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