Sally Heaney obituary

Other lives: Academic and educator who set up a playbus to reach children in disadvantaged areas

My wife, Sally Heaney, who has died aged 79, championed the movement towards child-centred education in the 1960s and 70s. A respected academic and exceptional teacher, she developed a research project in conjunction with Keele University that investigated the value of child-centred teaching methods.

In 1975, while working in the education department of Chester College (now University of Chester), she established a playgroup there for disadvantaged children from the area. In order to enable children who could not get to the playgroup, she helped to transform an old double-decker bus into a playbus – so that the playgroup could travel to the children and be a mobile source of fun and pre-school learning. To help raise money for this project, Sally mobilised knitters from local neighbourhoods to create a giant Liverpool scarf. When it was finished it reached around Anfield – the knitters gathered at the stadium and held the scarf up; the event was covered by BBC News North West, as was the playbus.

The playbus converted from an old double-decker, with help from Sally Heaney, as a mobile source of fun and pre-school learning for disadvantaged children
The playbus converted from an old double-decker, with help from Sally Heaney, as a mobile source of fun and pre-school learning for disadvantaged children Photograph: handout

Born in Liverpool, Sally was the only daughter of Ida (nee Lawrence), a secondary school teacher and later deputy head, and John Hanlon, a joiner and cabinet-maker. Sally attended St John’s primary school in Ainsdale, then Southport high school for girls. She progressed to Keele University in 1960, where she graduated in 1964 with a BSc in biology and economics. We met there in 1963 and married in 1966. I also became a lecturer, in English at Staffordshire University.

Following her PhD at Keele, Sally taught at Meerbrook primary school (1965-66) and Kidsgrove high school in Staffordshire (1966-68), before joining Chester.

Sally was awarded her doctorate by Exeter University in 1997, by which time she was head of the PGCE she had founded and designed at Chester in 1987. She “retired” from Chester in 2003, and her last position was as a much-valued Open University tutor in Manchester and Liverpool, until 2016.

Sally made a great difference to many hundreds of lives. She was tirelessly patient, always generous with her time, and enabled children and students to achieve their very best. Kind, brave, fun-loving, creative and tenacious, Sally inspired all those she taught.

She is survived by me, our children, Anna and John, her brother, Lawrence, and two grandchildren, Alex and Ruby.


Peter Heaney

The GuardianTramp

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