Obituary: Myra Pearson OBE, dedicated professional who advanced good teaching practice at the heart of education

Myra Pearson OBE
Myra Pearson OBE
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BORN: 25 March, 1953, in St Andrews, Fife. Died: 17 November, 2012, in Larbert, near Falkirk, aged 59

Myra Pearson was an influential educationalist both at home and on the international stage – a woman who got things done, often within hours of an idea germinating.

She led from the front, ­turning visions into reality and delivering a whole range of ­initiatives that improved teaching, both for young people and their educators.

Her expertise was hugely valuable to the General Teaching Council for Scotland, which she served as depute registrar, and, as Dean of the School of Education at Aberdeen University where she created a model of teacher education provision for other universities.

A conscientious pupil who excelled in her own schooldays at Madras College, St Andrews, as a youngster she was an avid reader who also enjoyed extra-curricular activities, including hockey, netball and swimming. She loved music, sang in the school choir and played the piano and clarsach, talents that would later inspire a number of her pupils to reach high musical standards.

After a rural childhood living on various farms, she left St ­Andrews to study at Aberdeen College of Education before starting her teaching career at Kilmarnock’s Silverwood Primary School in 1975. On arrival she appeared to be a timorous young thing, in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of organisation and planning the job required. But she threw herself into the prep, demonstrating an early steely determination and commitment that would remain at the core of her career.

From there she became a staff tutor in Ayrshire, taking up a post as assistant headteacher of Annick Primary in Irvine in 1985. A year later she had joined Glasgow’s Jordanhill College of Education as a lecturer in its primary education department. She spent 15 years at the institution, which later became part of Strathclyde University, during which time she was co-ordinator for the postgraduate Certificate in Education, co-director of its Professional Development Unit and Associate Dean, responsible for developing postgraduate programmes.

She also was a partner in running the business The Scottish Primary Mathematics Group, involved in both authoring and publishing well-known and much-used mathematics materials.

When, in 2001, the General Teaching Council of Scotland was looking for a depute registrar (education) who could be influential nationally, her interview was a triumph, illustrating a woman who cared passionately about children’s education and who knew that, at the heart of a strong education system, was good teaching.

Although the board realised they would not see eye to eye with her on everything, she got the job and went on to help make the GTCS a success here and internationally. She was involved in developing the Standards for Full Registration, for Chartered Teacher and for Headship plus the Certificate for Professional Recognition.

On one occasion, when the Standard for Chartered Teacher was mooted, she produced a draft within 90 minutes. It was the by-product of a difficult meeting that she had just left in less than happy mood. She didn’t confess until years later that she had actually been working on it for some time but was never going to admit to it on that particular morning.

Her aptitude for grasping the nettle was also evident when the idea of professional recognition for teachers was mentioned. By the following morning she had produced a draft and that day agreed to chair the working party.

Her final post was as head of Aberdeen University’s School of Education, a position she took up in 2006, just as Aberdeen was developing a new approach to Initial Teacher Education.

Professor Margaret Ross, head of the College of Arts and Social Sciences, said: “Under Myra’s leadership the school’s teacher education provision became a model for other universities.

“She supported colleagues in the school to grow their skills and was a tremendous advocate for the school in the college and wider university. Having been involved in international exchanges in education and teacher education, she widened the school’s international activities and took a “can do” approach to many new ideas.”

That attitude resulted in so many achievements over the years including: delivering the restructured teacher training programme in 25 per cent of the time budgeted for; gaining support and sign-off for an alternative approach to dyslexia and inclusion in education which has since been adopted elsewhere in Europe; and playing a key role in providing a three-year consultancy in Botswana, rescuing a service that previously failed to deliver. She also developed collaborative partnership with other education institutions and agencies here and overseas from China and Hong Kong to the Middle East and United States.

At home, particularly over the past decade, she had a major influence on thinking across Scotland as chair of the Scottish Teacher Education Committee and was a member of the Curriculum for Excellence management board.

A veteran networker and one of Scottish education’s foremost advocates, she was totally committed to the cause and demanded high standards which were non-negotiable. As a result, she was admired for her drive and her ability to give her all to those who reciprocated.

She retired early, in 2010, while fighting leukaemia with dignity, determination and positivity, and was awarded the ­
OBE for services to higher education in the 2011 New Year’s Honours list.

“A hugely bright person who always remembered that education was about children, she could be quite direct and assertive with those who had less noble priorities,” said the GTCS. “We will remember Myra as an intelligent, innovative, witty and supportive colleague.”

She is survived by her husband, Brian Twiddle, siblings Arlyn and Ian and extended family.

ALISON SHAW