Ann Maguire, aged sixty one, was an outstanding teacher - spending the entire forty years of her career in one secondary school - Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. She has been referred to as "the mother" of that school for she was much more than someone who just turned up every day and taught her timetabled lessons. She was a confidante, a counsellor, a prop for younger staff, a listening ear for troubled pupils, an enthusiastic participant in extra curricular events, a team player of the highest order. Such precious things are customarily ignored by OFSTED inspectors as they are invisible and immeasurable.
Ann was due to retire this summer but sadly, tragically she will now never enjoy that golden time for on Monday, during a Year Eleven Spanish lesson, a troubled fifteen year old boy returned to her classroom with a kitchen knife and stabbed her in the back several times before moving to her neck. Many of the boy's classmates witnessed this nightmarish event and though efforts were made to save Ann's life, she died in front of them in a pool of blood.
The murderer is variously described as being "dark", "weird", "depressive", "a loner" who had chosen a picture of The Grim Reaper to head his Facebook page. His parents split up when he was young and he lived with his mother and older brother. I understand that his mother went off on a foreign holiday at the weekend.
As someone who began teaching at the age of eighteen and spent twenty two years in one Sheffield secondary school, I have contemplated Ann's killing more deeply than I might think about other awful murders you hear about. For example, though hindsight is certainly a marvellous thing, I wonder if this killing might have been avoided. Had the murderer's killing potential been signalled long before and what had been done to address his dark and embittered behaviour?
Emerging from a long career in teaching, memory selectively filters away the majority of happenings, the majority of days and you are left with a couple of handfuls of memories - the flotsam and jetsam of many years of chalkface work. Amongst those bits and pieces I find this...
It must have been around 1990 some time in October. I knew that a new student was going to join my Year 10 English class and that he had been "transferred" from nearby Hinde House School. That's pretty much all I knew - apart from his name - Dean. I came back to my classroom in the middle of morning breaktime and met Dean for the first time. He was sitting at the back of the room on his own with his back to me - under the window. He appeared to be focussing on something and when I got over there I saw what he was doing. He was chiselling away at the mortar between the concrete blocks that formed the rear wall. In his hand there was a knife - a table knife which looked suspiciously like the knives provided in the school canteen. He stopped what he was doing and I jollied Dean along, introducing myself as the little radar on top of my head emitted a clear "Danger!" signal.
In the days that followed, Dean revealed himself to be a very difficult pupil - intelligent but very lazy, possessing innate cunning. He was skilled at winding up other pupils and orchestrating resistance so that the previously pleasant learning atmosphere in that particular class became soured. Naturally, I wanted to know more about Dean - to learn about his background and why he had transferred from Hinde House. But nobody seemed to know anything and there was still no file for him in the school office. By the way, my school seemed to have a nasty habit of hiding key information in order to facilitate "clean slate" opportunities so that even frontline teachers were denied the truth about certain new pupils.
Back then I had a friend who worked at Hinde House. I only saw her occasionally but one evening - about a month after Dean had first appeared at our school - I bumped into her in a pub in Broomhill and took the opportunity to ask her about Dean. What Maggie revealed was stunning. Dean had been expelled from Hinde House for threatening a Science teacher with a knife. It was the culmination of three and a half years of challenging behaviour. And what had he been holding when I first met him? Yes, a knife.
Farewell to Ann Maguire. Pillar of Corpus Christi School. A real teacher - so different from the careerists who flit from post to post, leaping between the latest bandwagons. Someone who listened and laughed. Someone who genuinely cared. Someone who demonstrated the meaning of devotion each day of her working life.