Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rest in Peace, Neil Sears

Yesterday I heard about the suicide of Neil Sears, head teacher of a special school in Cambridgeshire where, five years ago, we began our work in schools.

Neil was one of Young People Speaking Up's earliest backers and was instrumental in bringing other heads and senior teachers on board throughout the county. He was found dead on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the end of the school day.

When I heard about Neil's death (he was 52), I was, of course totally stunned. He was an inspriational, likeable figure, just the right kind of personality for the head of a school which was in the process of transforming itself into becoming mainstream.

I was last at the school in the second half of last year on a `Back to the Floor' visit to see our Young People's project in action. Afterwards, I spent most of the lunch hour with Neil, talking about the school, how well it was developing.

He was one of these people I always felt glad to see. He always made me welcome, pumped my hand, told me how delighted he was with our work in the school, what a big difference it made to the kids.

He also talked very openly about things. Over the lunch-hour it became clear that although big stides had been made in getting the integration going with the mainstream school down the road, it had been hard-going. He was, though, overwhelmingly positive.

All the children were eating dinner while we stood talking. Laughing, chatting occasionally being brought to order, strictly, but kindly by Neil.

His devotion to the young people in his care was recognised and reciprocated by the clear affection, even adulation, he inspired in pupils, parents and staff. I remember leaving thinking how glad I was he was in charge there.

I am seldom impressed when I go into our schools. So many of the staff seem tired and disengaged. But even after 13 years at Meadowgate, Neil showed none of that, publicly at least. He came to our AGMs, brought the kids to events, always willing to go beyond what would be expected. He was probably our biggest single supporter in all the schools in which we now work.

About three years ago I think, he took the Headship of the school after a long stint as Deputy. I spoke to him at the time, a few months before his appointment, encouraging him to go for it. Neil wasn't a massively confident man, but he went for it and got it, to the delight of many us, myself included.

I don't know how the job sat with him in his own mind but I get the sense, somehow that he struggled with parts of it. Whether the job played a part in all of this I don't know but I wouldn't be surprised, somehow, if it did.

When somebody this good takes their life, it just feels terrible. His pain must have been profound and his loneliness unbearable.

The world has lost a great teacher and a brilliant leader this week. Not one that was ever celebrated or known beyond his own town but someone who has left a mark on many lives.

Including mine and those of my staff who saw him twice a week for the last five years. Their sense of loss is, of course, intense and all the more powerful for their close acquaintance with him.

Today is a truly day for everyone who knew Neil Sears.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Craig for all your kind words. My Dad was an amazing man as you have expressed. I will miss him forever but reading tributes like yours makes things that little bit easier. He would have been very proud to read it. x x x

Craig Dearden-Phillips said...

My tribute was very easy to write. I am glad it provided some small comfort at this terrible time for you. Your Dad was a very special man, somebody irreplaceable not only to you, but, unusually, to many others, to a whole community. People like your Dad just don't come along very often. His life was a gift to everyone.

"Turns" said...


Having read a lot of the news reporting it was nice to find a tribute such as yours. Searsy was my/our Head of Year for many years, there was no doubt that he was the man in charge, but he was still very much one of the boys and was extremely popular. There a lot of things that I've remembered about him these last few days, his love of a particular musician's music for one thing, as well as an assembly he carried out on Roller Skates with our other teachers and a musical introduction to a fellow teacher that used Shabba Rank's "Loverman" (Joe Lobbo RIP). I never played a lot of school football, for good reason, but the one good pass I made in a football match he congratulated me afterward. I have a photograph of him early one morning on a school activity trip to France, emerging from his tent with a small beer (he confiscated this when he saw it and I got it reprinted , I don't know if it was for the beer or the belly!). I will treasure it forever. A great bloke. RIP

chrisdnewman said...

Thank you, Craig, for doing this. I am shattered to hear about my old friend Neil. I went to teacher training college with him at Bognor Regis. He was so likeable and easy-going. For two years we lived in the same houses and I knew him and his girlfriend (his first wife) very well. For four years we were often on the same courses and went together to sporting events and the Proms in London.

Neil was a fantastic guy. We only communicated occasionally over the years (my fault, for being lazy) but when we did we laughed for hours. I was a mature student and Neil was 9 years younger than me yet he taught me a lot about life. It has been an honour to call him a friend.

Chris Newman, Salisbury

Anonymous said...

As the mother of a child currently attending meadowgate i would like to thank you for this tribute and say that i agree with every word. Neil was the best possible head for this school having as he did a great connection with all of the children whatever their age and disability.
I can only hope that his family gain some comfort from knowing how well loved and respected he was by people from all walks of life with whom he came in contact.
He will be truly missed

Anonymous said...

My son Brian went to Meadowgate school he left in 2004 as he is now 23,Mr Sears was his teacher and he described him as simply the best,our thoughts and condolences are with family,friends and Meadowgate on the sad loss of Neil he will be very sadly missed.RIP Neil,as Brian said you where simply the best.
Cheryl,Andy,Brian & Nathan Thurston

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Craig. He was fantastic at everything he did, and always gave 100% to everything but especially to his family and his job, we are so proud of him but as you can imagine still miss him terribly, I had heard from our children and some friends what you had written but wanted to thank you personally. our home and the school seem to have lost their spark now he's not here.

Karen Sears

Anonymous said...

Hi Craig
I have only just find out the sad news.
I am still in shock. Mr Sears was the Head of year while I was at Bushfield Community School. I am Dyslexic and school was hard for me. But Mr Sears never gave up on me. while I lived in yorkshire Teachers had wriiten me off and told me that I would never achive any thing. Mr Sears pushed me to always see the best in myself and my work. and he showed me that Education can be Fun in Fact i would say that he put the F in fun.I am now 35 and it has tacken me a long time to get were I am today but I have now done the 1st year of a Cambridge degree and I know with out Neil Sears I wouldnt have got that far I would have given up long ago.
Amanda Buckenham (Shaw)