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Andrew Stibbs

Andrew Stibbs, BA, MA

Mr Andrew Stibbs, former Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, died on 22 December 2011.

Born in Rawdon in 1939, Andrew Stibbs was a pupil at Bradford Grammar School.  He went up to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1959, where he read for Part I of the Historical Tripos, switching to English for Part II.  Graduating in 1962, he completed a Postgraduate Certificate of Education at Oxford in the following year (during which he and a lifelong friend took pride in living off bacon bits from Oxford Market at 4d a pound).  He then embarked on a highly successful fifteen-year career in school teaching.  His first post was at a comprehensive school on Merseyside, followed by head of department appointments at Stockbridge Secondary School, near Sheffield, and Warsett Comprehensive School in Cleveland.  In 1976, he was appointed as an Advisory Teacher for Cleveland County LEA, undertaking development and support work in a variety of schools and contributing substantially to the Authority’s programme of in-service education.  During this period, he also completed a part-time MA in Education at the University of Durham.  Successful not only in the classroom, he at the same time steadily built a reputation as an acute and perceptive thinker, writer and teacher about the teaching of English.  This was reflected in his election to the Council of the National Association for the Teaching of English and his appointment as one of the Association’s Assistant Secretaries.  He was motivated in no small measure by his passionate conviction in the justice of the comprehensive school ideal.  As a result of government action, such schools grew rapidly in number from the mid-1960s onwards, and Andrew was driven by a desire to help colleagues rise to the challenge of this form of educational provision and to establish a basis for secure practice.

Appointed Lecturer in the School of Education in 1978, Andrew Stibbs quickly established himself as an outstanding teacher on the PGCE, MEd and Diploma programmes.  Imbued with wit and flair, his teaching was broad in its scope, highly individual and strongly marked by his own voice, temperament, originality of thought and love of his subject.  His students appreciated that they were on an intriguing intellectual journey, under the guidance of a deeply humane tutor who was invariably able to draw out their talents – and who had the capacity effortlessly to relate their practical needs and concerns to wider, more theoretical considerations.  Of particular note within the context of his PGCE work were the close and fruitful links he established with schools and the development by him of course components covering education in a multi-racial society.  In addition, he was key to the introduction of two new Advanced Diplomas, both of which proved very popular with serving teachers.  One of the courses, on the theory and practice of teaching English to secondary pupils, was designed in response to interest expressed by his former employer, Cleveland LEA.  He also ran a distinguished series of seminars on Education and Arts, bringing together staff from the School of Education with local arts administrators and teachers.  He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1992.

Andrew’s reputation extended far beyond the walls of the institution; he was nationally and internationally respected for the distinction and impact of his scholarship which produced many valuable insights into improving the quality and effectiveness of the teaching of English language and literature.  In constant demand as a speaker on courses organised by LEAs, the Department of Education and Science and schools, he also retained a leading role in the National Association for the Teaching of English.  His scholarly interests encompassed the theory and practice of the teaching of English and literature, including literature teaching within a multicultural and multilingual society; children’s literature; and the assessment of children’s written and spoken English.  He published regularly, both books and articles, over an extended period, and was the author of many book reviews.  Much of his work was original and distinctive, displaying not only the quality of his scholarship, but also the applicability of the insights of such scholarship to everyday classroom encounters.    Among his books, Assessing children’s language: guidance for teachers (1979) became a set text for the Open University and Exploring texts through reading aloud and dramatization (1983) is still very widely used within the classroom.  Reading narrative as literature: signs of life (1991) reflected his interest in the applications of literary theory.  He brought together pedagogy and literary theory in a way that was entirely original in manner, tone and the richness of concrete instances – of moments from a whole range of works.

Andrew Stibbs retired in June 2001 but retained a part-time association with the School of Education as a Senior Fellow for the following three years.

Among Andrew’s many talents and gifts warmly recalled by friends and colleagues since his death are his instinctive tendency to share and collaborate; his qualities as a poet and reader of verse; his skill as a parodist; his love of the plays of Shakespeare; his impressive drawings and paintings; his immense kindness and personal thoughtfulness; his love of classical music; his pride at being the kind of batsman who could stay at the crease for hours, even if he didn’t score many runs; the palpable grace with which he faced adversity and his final illness; and, perhaps most of all, his capacity for showing how to live with principle, guts and rollicking enjoyment.  Sir Alan Wilson, former Vice-Chancellor, writes:

‘The news of Andrew’s death was a great sadness for me. He had been a personal friend for over 40 years, dating back to our student days in Cambridge. This embraced politics in Oxford (where we had both moved, coincidentally), a long correspondence when we were in different locations, a writers’ workshop in Cleveland and, in Ilkley, a more or less weekly game of snooker over quite a long period. Andrew always won! A means of escape for me while I was Vice-Chancellor was an occasional sandwich lunch in Andrew’s office in Hillary Place. He was one of the most talented and generous people I have ever met – as artist, writer, poet and perhaps above all, teacher, whether in school or in the University. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that he will have been an enormous influence for the good in very many lives and he will be much missed.’

Andrew is survived by his wife, Christine, and by two sons, William and Tom and two daughters, Catharine and Olivia.   The funeral took place on 6 January, in Stratford-upon-Avon.


Andrew Stibbs remembered
Peter Medway
14 January 2012

I knew Andrew from the age of 11 when we were both in the Bradford Grammar School 1st scout troop.  We became close friends when I was about 16 and he 18.  I'm not sure why this happened because two years age difference is a lot at that age and we weren’t alike in any obvious ways, except perhaps in both being verbal show-offs who made people laugh and fancying ourselves as intellectuals.  We only ever had one falling-out, and we blamed that on being stuck hitchhiking on a road in the Highlands with no car for hours and being bitten to madness by midges.

The period when we had most to do with each other was as students.  Because Andrew, for complicated reasons, left school at the same time as I did (he with A levels in maths and physics) we both went to university in 1959 – he to Cambridge (history – he had switched, then English) and I to Oxford.  We kept in touch by letters and mutual visits.  Andrew then moved to Oxford for his postgraduate Dip Ed while I was still an undergraduate because my course was four years, not three.  His friend Alan Wilson, later to be professor of geography and vice-chancellor of Leeds University, had also moved to Oxford, so I got to know him too.

Andrew and I rented rooms in the same decrepit building, 88 St Aldates, and took pride in living off bacon bits from Oxford Market for 4d a pound, though we must also have eaten something else that year.  We had three student vacation trips together, the first hitchhiking through France – we got as far as the cliffs outside Dieppe, camped and stayed for three weeks – the second to the Outer Hebrides where we pitched our tent on the walls of a ruined croft by the sea four miles from the shop and bar and finally, in my Morris 1000 van, to Brindisi and by boat to Athens, this time with John Simpson, another education student from Oxford who became not a teacher but an oceanographer and with whom I had a warm reunion at Andrew’s funeral.

Andrew went off to teach in Liverpool, I to do my PGCE at the London Institute of Education.  Teaching had been Andrew’s idea and I think I got it from him.  This was 1963-4, we were both active Labour Party members, Harold Wilson was about to become Prime Minister and we were, like many other graduates, going to build the new society.  Reading English at Cambridge, Andrew had been inspired by David Holbrook’s English for Maturity and made me want to read it.  Following each other’s book recommendations had been our practice for some time, and continued to be right up to his death.  (In the last year he got me onto Sean O’Brien, the excellent poet who had been his PGCE student at Leeds.)

Andrew taught in Liverpool, Stocksbridge and Brotton (near Saltburn) and for years, both married with families, we saw relatively little of each other until I ended up in Wakefield and Andrew in the School of Education at Leeds.  He, Alan Wilson and I met monthly for a time at a mid-way point, the Spotted Cow in Drighlington, for our exclusive writers’ workshop, to which Andrew brought poems and Alan a novel in progress (and completed, though never published, as far as I know).  A few years later I was in Leeds myself as a PhD student and then lecturer, alongside Andrew, with whom I regularly ate my sandwiches in his cramped and crammed garret in Beechgrove House.  In 1991 I moved to Ottawa where he and his second wife Christine visited me on the way to or from his son William, a scientist in Toronto.  In recent years after my return to London we’ve met regularly at exhibitions in London and at his house in Stratford-upon-Avon, and finally I saw him several times in hospital – the last time apparently much improved, with Chris always with him and one or more of the four children often.

Because Andrew was part of my life for so long it would be hard to single out what I owe to him: I am sure I would have been a different person if I had never met him but it’s hard to specify how.  My career could certainly have gone in a different direction.  Originally because he was older but eventually because he was cleverer and better at most things he was my lifelong mentor.  Most of what I know about art and architecture, much about poetry and other literature and plenty about English teaching I know because of Andrew.  Plenty about living, too, which he did with principle, guts and rollicking enjoyment.  He had three times as much energy as most people and seemed always to be working at a demanding job, caring for a family, carrying out projects of home-improvement (or, in Brotton, goat-keeping in the back garden of a house on a new estate), canvassing and organising for (until recently) the Labour Party, writing and painting.  (A slide show of his paintings was running at the celebration that followed his funeral; I'd been quite unaware of the quantity of his work, though I was well aware of its quality, recognised in exhibitions in the area.)  He was a witty, creative, life-affirming person to know, a kind and generous friend and an all-round good person, one of the best I have known.