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Inspirational teacher honoured for her life's work

RECOGNITION: Rosemary Campbell-Stephens

EDUCATOR AND leadership trainer Rosemary Campbell-Stephens has just celebrated being recognised for her outstanding career which has spanned more than three decades and inspired several generations to learn, lead and teach.

And what has taken this wise, but very unassuming woman by surprise is how pleased she’s been to be offered the honour of an MBE in recognition of her services to education.

“It’s been incredibly humbling that peers, colleagues and friends put me forward,” smiled Rosemary, who admitted she had no intention of refusing it because she feels it’s in recognition of her life’s work, which from the start has been about speaking the truth in the world of education.

“It was an unexpected surprise to receive the letter from the Cabinet Office, but what meant even more to me was the letter from the Secretary of State for Education, recognising my contribution to education,” she said.

Rosemary is an independent consultant trainer who is also a Visiting Fellow with the University of London’s Department of Education. She’s been an OFSTED inspector, head teacher, deputy head and conference speaker in all parts of the world, but when you ask about her career highlights she goes right back to the beginning.

“Running a supplementary school in Lozells, Birmingham for ten years during the 1980s has to be one of the periods of my life of which I’m most proud,” she said.

“At its height we had well over 200 children from the ages of three and a half to 17 and 18 aiming for university. We could have taken a lot more but we simply couldn’t afford to hire the classroom space!

“It was at a time when African Caribbean parents wanted their children to have a strong sense of their own identity and culture as part of a high quality educational entitlement.

“I remember we had an incredible variety of children attending. I honed my craft as a teacher in those classrooms.

“Some students were from grammar schools, some from comprehensives, while others had been excluded, but all of these children’s parents were conscious Caribbeans who defied the prevailing narrative at the time about failing Caribbean heritage students in the British schooling system.

“They wanted their children to have a positive experience of being black through their educational experience, not in spite of it, and they were not getting this in mainstream education.

“But it really hit home when I was offered the MBE how some of those former Saturday school students and others I had taught in mainstream, got in touch to congratulate me.

“So many had gone on to be teachers themselves or were in other ways exemplary contributors to their families, communities and society as a whole. Having not had any children myself, that, I feel, is my legacy.”

There’s no doubt that Rosemary has played her part in helping to increase the number of black school leaders in the UK.

In 2003, she developed Investing in Diversity (IiD) a leadership preparation programme for the London Centre for Leadership in Learning, Institute of Education, in the then University of London.

In 2009 the programme went international and was launched in Toronto, Canada. It is for this groundbreaking programme that she was awarded a visiting fellowship from this leading university.

Mary Gordon, a Birmingham-based teacher who recently completed an Authentic Leaders teaching course delivered by Rosemary, spoke to The Voice on behalf of many colleagues who’d encountered Rosemary’s teaching.

Mary, who has just been offered an assistant head teacher’s post which she believes she secured after being inspired by the course, said: “Rosemary is truly inspirational because she motivates us and equips us with the right tools, so we in turn can motivate others in a very positive ripple effect.

“With Rosemary it is always about others. She teaches us how to be reflective and adaptable in the different kinds of situations we face.

“Most importantly she teaches us to be authentic; to have qualities and standards that are non-negotiable in the world of teaching.”

Life is now about to come full circle for Handsworth-born Rosemary who is returning to her parent’s Jamaican roots to make a new life in the western parish of Hanover later this year.

But it won’t be a case of putting her feet up, as she is already making plans to support one of her biggest mentors Elaine Foster-Allen, who is now Jamaica’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education.

“It’s something that my husband and I have been planning for a while and there is already a bit of a Campbell clan, my two older siblings, who have returned to live in our beloved JA,” explains Rosemary, whose husband William Stephens has just retired after a long career in the Probation Service.

“But we won’t be cutting our ties with Birmingham or the UK because we both still have close family here including my blessed mum, who is 89, and my youngest sister.

“I shall be coming backwards and forth for all kinds of things including the investiture for the MBE at Buckingham Palace, the precise date of which I have not yet received. I’m just going to try to slow down the pace a little.”

But for anyone who knows Rosemary, we all know there will be no slowing down.