My friend Derek Jay, who has died of lung cancer aged 67, spent the most influential years of his career as head of religious education at Filton high school in Bristol.
A dedicated teacher who was committed to education in the broadest sense, he brought intellectual powers to bear in that role that others might have used in better paid and more comfortable settings.
Thanks to Derek’s innovations at Filton high, RE was transformed from a groan-inducing compulsory lesson into an option of choice for many pupils. He taught children to think for themselves, commanding respect and affection, and many stayed in touch with him long after leaving school.
Derek was born in Weymouth, Dorset, to Albert, who ran a gentlemen’s outfitters in the town, and his wife, Doris (nee Reynolds). After Weymouth grammar school he studied theology at the University of Leeds and then qualified as a teacher in 1974. During this period he went from being a Young Conservative to an active member of the Labour party with a Christian faith centred on a concern for social justice.
Derek’s first job as an RE teacher was at Honley high school, West Yorkshire, from 1974 to 1979. He then left to become head of RE at Filton and continued in that role until he retired in 2004.
His reputation as a hard taskmaster grew over the years and colleagues spoke with rueful amusement about some of his more eccentric tendencies. Thin partitions between temporary classrooms made for some interesting conversations in the staff room, with Derek often keen to comment on the performance of his fellow teachers.
He will also be remembered for defiantly stalking by the school fence at breaktime, cigarette in hand, after the banishment of smokers from the grounds.
Outside his teaching job Derek was a lay minister in the Church of England and frequently preached at St Paul’s church in Clifton.
After retirement he continued his membership of the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE), worked for a year as the development officer for Bristol Inter Faith Group and also became secretary of the Bristol Council for Christians and Jews.
The theologian and TV presenter Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote that Derek “was more than a good teacher, he was a learned man, with a passion for knowledge and a passion that good knowledge should be used properly”.
He is survived by Jonathan Evans, his partner of 25 years.