Liz Bird, 1958-2010

August 19, 2010

A leading expert on teacher training who made a significant contribution to the development of the profession in Africa has died.

Liz Bird was born in Reading on 20 April 1958 and educated at the Abbey School before attending the University of Cambridge to read natural sciences.

She stayed on at Cambridge to do a postgraduate certificate in education and then to work as a teacher of science and physics.

At this point, however, she branched out and spent most of the period from 1983 to 1989 in Africa, first in Sudan and then at several schools in Botswana. She eventually became head of science at a school there and then served as an examiner for the country's Ministry of Education.

Returning to Britain, Ms Bird studied for an MEd at the University of Leeds and continued teaching science in schools and a sixth-form college in Hampshire and Bedfordshire, taking a career break from 1993 to 1997 to bring up her children.

In 1998, she secured a post as research assistant at The Open University, where she was to remain for the rest of her life. Within 10 years of taking up the post, she became head of the department of education.

She also embarked on a PhD on "mature entrants to teaching". Although Ms Bird did not live to complete her doctoral thesis, she was widely acknowledged as one of Britain's leading authorities on the crucial topic of teacher supply, and why some who qualify as teachers never take up the profession. She presented her findings to both the General Teaching Council and what is now the Training and Development Agency for Schools.

Her early work in Africa also led Ms Bird to become involved in The Open University's Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (Tessa) programme, which won a Queen's Award for Higher Education. As well as returning to Sudan, she worked with Iraqi teachers in both Jordan and Milton Keynes.

Frank Banks, professor of teacher education at The Open University, described Ms Bird as "industrious and detailed in administration but also very good at dealing with individuals".

He said: "She was always laughing, but very spiritual, and a woman of tremendous integrity who could be an inspirational speaker. She was an excellent teacher of teachers. There were many moving tributes from Africans who had been involved in the Tessa project and saw her death as a personal more than professional loss. Some spoke of her as a tree fallen."

Ms Bird was killed in a car crash on 10 July 2010. She is survived by her husband, Mike, two sons and a daughter.

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