Millie McCulloch obituary

Other lives: Activist and special educational needs teacher who was a fierce advocate of child-centred learning

My mother, Millie McCulloch, who has died aged 100, was a special educational needs teacher. She was also a fighter for socialism, social justice, women’s rights and educational equality.

The eldest of five children, she was the daughter of Millicent (nee Harris) and William Potter, a glazier, who was a survivor of the “imperialist war”, where he served in Mesopotamia and India. He was a self-taught working-class intellectual and a huge influence on her.

Growing up in south Bristol in the 1930s and attending St George secondary school, Millie used to collect the Daily Workers that were thrown off the London train as it came in to Temple Meads. She campaigned for Stafford Cripps in the Bristol South constituency, the family home becoming an election HQ. After dodging the blitz in the city she was sent to do war work in Birmingham, helping to build Lancaster bombers along with other women; she promptly signed them up for the union.

At the end of the war, Millie met Andy McCulloch through the Young Communist League. At one time they helped homeless people to squat in the empty military barracks in the centre of Birmingham, and in their zeal forgot to grab a billet for themselves. They married in 1946.

After having her two children, Millie returned to education as a mature student and trained as a teacher, working in several Birmingham primaries before specialising in “remedial education”, as it was called at the time.

When the family moved back to Bristol in 1969 she became head of remedial at Filton high school, where, among other things, she successfully won female teachers the right to wear trousers. Then she moved to a similar role at Ashton Park school in south Bristol, and succeeded in engaging many socially deprived teenagers, using, for example, the lyrics of the pioneering musicians of the day, such as Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Stevie Wonder, to inspire them. She was a fierce advocate of child-centred learning and of comprehensive education.

Millie retired in 1981, after which she spent time travelling with Andy in their camper van to France and around Britain following Bristol City, where they were season-ticket holders for many years. She also joined an art class, sharing her vibrant still lifes far and wide, loved to garden, and, with Andy, had a large role in bringing up their only grandchild. She delighted in her great-grandson, Morrison, who was born five years ago.

Millie fought to retain her independence and lived alone in her council bungalow in Long Ashton, Somerset, where she celebrated her 100th birthday in January.

She is survived by her children, Pat and me, granddaughter, Kesty, great-grandson, Morrison, and by her sister, Marjery.

John McCulloch

The GuardianTramp

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