John Sayer obituary

Other lives: Educator who helped found the General Teaching Council and was passionate about international cooperation between universities

My father, John Sayer, who has died aged 91, was a headteacher, a vice-chair of the General Teaching Council of England and Wales (GTC), and an educator who was passionate about international cooperation between universities.

He was born in Romford, Essex, to Hilda (nee Salmons), a bookkeeper, and Arthur Sayer, a railway clerk. A keen choirboy at Boxley church, he later sang bass solo in choirs wherever life took him.

John gained an open scholarship from Maidstone grammar in Kent to Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1951, to read French and German. His love of Racine led decades later to his books Jean Racine: Life and Legend (2006) and Jean Racine: Echoes Across Europe (2020). At university he joined the Labour party and remained a lifelong member, though he stopped active campaigning after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He also joined a pan-European student movement, Amical, where he met Ilserose Heyd, from Hamburg University. The group exchanged ideas and crossed borders peacefully to the call of “Vive L’Europe!”. John and Ilserose married in 1955 at the Friends’ meeting house in Oxford.

John’s way of making the world a better place was through education. He taught French and German at Itchen grammar school, Southampton (1955-59), and was head of German, deputy head, and headteacher at schools in Somerset, before becoming principal of the huge, multi-site Banbury school (part of which is now Wykham Park academy) in Oxfordshire in 1973.

In 1979, he was elected president of the Secondary Heads Association (now the Association of School and College Leaders). He campaigned for a GTC throughout the 1980s and was one of its founders in 1988, becoming its vice-chair in 1994. His book, The General Teaching Council, was published in 2000.

He continued his work, as director of the education management unit at the University of London (1985-91) and as a research fellow at Oxford University’s department of education (from 1990), where he developed the programme Schools for Democracy in Europe. There, in 1991, he became project director of Trans-European Mobility Programmes for University Studies (Tempus), an initiative that encouraged cooperation between higher education institutions in European countries inside and outside the EU, in his case Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Russia.

As a result of his work with Tempus he became an honorary professor at Perm State University in Russia in 1995.

Ilserose died in 2020. John is survived by their children, my brother Christopher and me, and grandchildren, Jamie, Jennifer and Dominic.

Gwendolin Armstrong

The GuardianTramp

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