Peter Medway, 1941-2015

A researcher who greatly enhanced our understanding of the importance of writing skills within secondary English teaching has died

March 26, 2015

Peter Medway was born in Bradford on 1 July 1941 and educated at Bradford Grammar School before studying Classics and later English at Christ Church, Oxford. After a postgraduate certificate of education at the London Institute (1963-64), he taught English in secondary schools for 16 years interrupted by work on a Schools Council research project devoted to developing pupils’ writing skills.

In the early 1980s, he developed this into a PhD on promoting children’s writing at the University of Leeds, where he went on to serve as a senior research fellow and then lecturer in the School of Education (1985-91). He took the lead role in the national evaluation of the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative, funded through the Manpower Services Commission, and went on to two further MSC research projects while also playing a prominent role in debates about design and technology education.

“He achieved national renown for pioneering work in comprehensive schools that taught children how to discover the writer within themselves, one attuned to their own culture, language and hopes,” says Angela Anning, emeritus professor in early childhood education at Leeds.

She remembers Professor Medway as “never a conventional academic”, but “a great conversationalist, an attentive listener, a humorous storyteller, a domestic god and a fabulous dad and grandad” whose “quicksilver mind ran rings round most of us. He argued his case robustly with an astounding grasp of detail. He had a prodigious appetite for reading across a wide range of disciplines both academic and literary. He was willing to explore new evidence and concepts and to challenge orthodoxies; rigorous but always with a dry humour and natural wit.”

Moving on to teach linguistics and applied language studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he was later appointed professor of linguistics, Professor Medway researched the use of language in architectural training and practice. The results were published in a jointly authored book titled Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts (1999).

Returning to England in 2002, Professor Medway became a lecturer at King’s College London and then – after nominal retirement in 2006 – senior visiting research fellow on a study of three schools published in 2014 as a co-authored book, English Teachers in a Postwar Democracy: Emerging Choice in London Schools, 1945-1965.

Professor Medway died of a stroke on 17 January and is survived by a daughter, a son and four grandchildren.

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