John Mills obituary

Inspirational teacher and education adviser in east London, who was appalled by the control exerted on schools by politicians and school leaders

My friend and colleague John Mills, who has died aged 66 of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, was a teacher whose ability to put his educational beliefs into practice, combined with his altruism and humanity, lent him huge credibility and popularity.

In 1980 John was appointed to the English department at Forest Gate community school in Newham, east London, where, over the next 17 years, he established himself as an innovative, inspirational classroom practitioner whose passion for his subject and commitment to his students marked him out as a special kind of teacher.

John was a champion of child-centred learning without ever acknowledging the fact, and he was appalled by what he saw as the increasing levels of unwarranted control exerted on schools by politicians and school leaders.

He became head of Forest Gate’s English department in 1992 and, six years later, was appointed English adviser to secondary schools in the London borough of Newham, a role in which he applied his wry sense of humour, lack of ego and gently persuasive and unthreatening style.

John made a world of difference to so many young people in the borough in the way he supported their teachers. When schools were under pressure and members of staff at their most vulnerable, he was calm, thoughtful and hugely practical. Headteachers always felt that, whatever the challenges, the situation became better when John walked into a school.

Born in Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire, John was the son of Leslie, an engineer, and his wife, Kath (nee Lawrence). After attending Dr Challoner’s grammar school in Amersham, he got his degree from the University of East Anglia and then a teaching qualification from North East London Polytechnic (now the University of East London). He began his teaching career at Dagenham Priory school in Barking, east London, where he worked from 1975 to 1977. He was at King Harold school in Waltham Abbey in Essex (1977-1980) before going to Forest Gate community school.

John retired in 2011. He was a painter, gardener and lover of nature, as well as an enthusiastic hiker and avid reader. His wife, Christine Wallwork, died in 2008 and he is survived by his partner, Miranda Rée, two sons from his marriage, Jo and Robin, and a grandson, Leo.

John Hickman

The GuardianTramp

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