YOU meet many remarkable people in this job. Marie Stubbs is right up there near the top of the list.
Now the former head teacher, played by Julie Walters in ITV1 drama Ahead of the Class, is coming out of retirement for a new Channel 4 series.
Marie aims to try and turn around some of the UK’s worst performing schools in the four-part series called The School Fixer.
Trade magazine Broadcast reports today: “After critical and ratings success with Jamie’s School Dinners, C4 wants to examine other educational problems, such as truancy, bullying, attendance and low academic performance.”
Ahead of the Class was first screened in January 2005 and repeated last Saturday night. It was based on Marie’s book of the same name.
Glaswegian grandmother and former headmistress Marie was retired when she got the call to take over the hopelessly failing St George’s School in London. Five years earlier, headmaster Philip Lawrence was murdered at the school gates.
Arriving in the spring of 2000, she walked into an inner city establishment where teachers had lost hope, and violence, gang culture, vandalism and truancy were just a few of the problems to be faced.
Marie, then aged 60, knew a riot might break out at any moment. It took courage, and a lifetime of experience, to deal with what appeared to be mission impossible.
I spoke to Marie about the inspirational story of how she saved St George’s from closure. “When I look back on that school I remember a huge variety of young people who were bewildered by life and by what had happened to them,” she explained. “The mayhem filled the vacuum for them.”
Julie Walters once worked as a teacher in Manchester as part of her drama and teaching course at what was then Manchester Polytechnic. A pretty remarkable individual herself, she confessed: “I could never do what Marie did in a million years. I’d be absolutely terrified.”
During her career Marie has dealt with violence while working with acutely disturbed young people in a secure unit and is a respected voice of experience.
She told me: “Instead of glaring at somebody with a hood up on the bus, I hope the film will touch the hearts of people who might not really understand children like that.
“They’re not bad people, they’re vulnerable children. They can be very difficult and very naughty but what they’re trying to do is find out what the meaning of life is. It’s very confusing for young people. We need to be compassionate to our children, but not in any soppy, sentimental way. Every child is valuable.”
Created a Dame in the early 1990s, Lady Stubbs still works with organisations to improve standards in teaching. But she left St George’s at the end of 2001 and has never gone back.
“I said to the school, as I said to all my schools, that I wouldn’t return. You can’t dip the cup into the same moving stream and get the same cup full twice. There’s nothing worse that some grey and aged person creeping in every year. The musicians leave the stage at the end of the performance.”
Even so, Channel 4’s commissioning editor for features Liam Humphreys knows he has a series with the potential to make a huge impact. “Marie Stubbs is feisty and tough talking. She’s been there, she’s done it, and now she’s back.”