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Peter Medway, MA PhD

Dr Peter Medway, who was a Senior Research Fellow and then Lecturer in the School of Education between 1985 and 1991, died on 17 January 2015. Born in 1941 Pete (as he was known by everyone) attended Bradford Grammar School and studied Classics and later English at Christ Church College, Oxford.  Following a PGCE in 1963-64 at the London Institute, which he always acknowledged as an influential time, he went on to teach English in secondary schools in London and Wakefield for sixteen years, establishing a reputation as a brilliant and innovative teacher. In between these two periods of teaching he worked in a research team on a Schools Council project aimed at developing the writing abilities of those in secondary schools.

He came to Leeds in 1982 to study for a PhD on the topic of writing in English, with Douglas Barnes of the School of Education as his supervisor. Pete had previously encountered Douglas when both were active in the London Association for the Teaching of English.

In 1985 Pete was appointed a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Education.  He had day-to-day responsibility for leading the National Evaluation of the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) directed by Douglas Barnes and Professor David Layton.  This was a very large evaluation of a major initiative in secondary and further education funded through the Manpower Services Commission. In his TVEI evaluation work he developed a systematic approach to the analysis of a vast amount of qualitative data drawn from multi-site case studies.  This approach enabled the evaluation to avoid drowning in detail while ensuring that findings and recommendations were carefully evidenced. Following the completion of the evaluation in 1988 Pete led two further projects funded by the MSC – the TVEI Support Project and Developing English for TVEI (DEFT). In 1989 he was appointed to a Lectureship in the School of Education.

Pete had wide and eclectic research and scholarly interests but his career work began and ended with secondary English teaching. He specialized in writing both as teacher and researcher, and though secondary teachers are somewhat disinclined to accept educational theory with open eagerness, English teachers in the Leeds area were highly responsive to what Pete had to say about ideas concerning the practice of writing, both in evening classes and as participants in the DEFT project. This project and others showed Pete’s ability to inform, inspire and bring about original and pioneering approaches in both English teachers and their students.

The TVEI evaluation and subsequent work in which Pete played such a key role was a very significant development in the School of Education.  Not only was the National Evaluation an important contribution in its own right, which helped to shape government policy and inform practice, but it established the School of Education as an important centre for the study of 14-19 education and training, which has continued for more than two decades.  Pete himself was instrumental in bringing the first of several ESRC awards in the area to Leeds in 1991 before he moved to Canada.

It was through the TVEI evaluation that Pete developed an interest in design and technology education.  The period from 1985 was important as the subject was being formed in policy and practice, culminating in its inclusion in the national curriculum.  Pete’s was a distinctive voice in the many debates around the subject at that time.   He was particularly interested in the role of language and communication within a series of different kinds of practical activity, and so promoted a creative and humanistic view of design and technology education.

He moved from Leeds to Carleton University, Ottawa in 1991 to teach Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, where he was made a Professor of Linguistics. During his time in Canada he worked in the field of language in practical activity and education and practice in design disciplines. He and a colleague, Dr Aviva Freedman, were part of a prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada project to investigate the semiotic processes in the often conflicting worlds of training and work. Their research was focused on architecture, a field for which Pete had a life-long passion. Their work culminated in a book Relearning Writing for Work: Transitions Into and Within the Changing Workplace. In between time spent in Ottawa Pete gained a Visiting Honorary Professorship at Middlesex University in the mid-90s in recognition of his contribution to understanding the links between thinking and making. He also worked with colleagues there on visual literacy and argumentation.

He returned to the United Kingdom in 2002, appointed to a lectureship at King’s College, London to pursue his seminal work in the teaching of English.  Following his formal retirement in 2006 he played a leading role as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s in a historical collaborative research project on three specific locations of English teaching which resulted in a book, English Teachers in a Postwar Democracy: Emerging Choice in London Schools, 1945-1965 published in 2014.

Pete was a meticulous researcher and a formidable scholar with a great grasp of detail.  In his research he always dug deep in order to identify and understand subtlety and nuance. Thus, in all his research, wherever conducted, alongside the grasp of detail was an ability to identify and develop key themes and issues in ways which illuminated a bigger picture while doing justice to messy and complex realities.

He was a very generous and supportive colleague and enjoyed numerous fruitful collaborations during his academic career.  He was courageous in working across disciplines well before this became fashionable. He was always open to other ideas while being quick to spot those which did not stand up to scrutiny.  He was very insightful and often prompted colleagues to think about issues and problems in new and exciting ways. Richard Andrews, himself once a Leeds PGCE student, and later the professor at Middlesex University who invited Pete to contribute there, has said of him;“.. one of his marvellous characteristics.. (was that).. he was sceptical and generously positive at the same time. If only all academics had that combination.”

Pete was an inspiring teacher of both aspiring and practicing teachers and a wise and supportive supervisor of research students.  He could also be great company with his dry sense of humour and gifts for mimicry and lampoonery.  He was entirely without pomposity or self-importance.  He will be greatly missed by his wide circle of friends and colleagues.  He is survived by his daughter Helen and son Jim and four grandchildren whom he adored.

The funeral service will be held at 2.20pm on Monday 9 February 2015, at Kingston Crematorium, Bonner Hill Road, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 3EZ.  There are to be no flowers, although donations to SHINE Trust educational charity are welcomed.  The flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast in Dr Medway’s memory.