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Home > News and views > ’It’s great to see young people blossom’

’It’s great to see young people blossom’


New member Stephen Gray tells us why he was keen to become the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Coordinator for Bedfordshire

Why did you join the ESU?
It seemed a good way to stay in touch with the world of education now that I have retired from full time work.

Why did you get involved with the PSC?
I was contacted by the school where I previously worked who forwarded a message saying that the local branch was looking for a coordinator. They thought I might be interested in this opportunity – and they were right!

What is it about the PSC that interests you?
I like the way it promotes effective teamwork but I think the biggest thing for me is the confidence it gives the participants, and, in some cases, how it helps them overcome their fears. Over the years I’ve seen some very capable students who were literally petrified of speaking in front of other people. When you see them develop and go on to become senior students or even head girl or boy it’s just wonderful. It’s great to see young people blossom and wonderful to be able to help give them the skills to enable them to do that.

How are you finding the role?
Unusual! A couple of days after a preliminary meeting and just before I was due to attend my first event, the first lockdown kicked in and all live events and meetings stopped. So this has been a slightly odd introduction with all interactions being via phone calls or online. I remain hopeful that as the vaccine is rolled out we may be able to return to something more normal for the 2021-22 academic year.

What skills do you have as a retired teacher that best fit this role?
I think teachers and former teachers have an ability to see and celebrate the best in young people. We have networks of contacts which can be of use. And we are used to standing up and talking to lots of people, which can be useful at live events – although the downside of that is that people might expect us to be good!

Who inspires/has inspired you and why?
Working in education for over 40 years I have often been inspired by dedicated colleagues who work so hard for the young people in their care; by meeting so many talented students along the way and seeing them develop their talents as they become young adults; and perhaps above all by those young people who have struggled through adversity and have made a success of their lives despite hardship or emotional difficulties.

Tell us something surprising about you.
A few years ago I met with Gary Brooker of Procol Harum who agreed to let our school have use of the orchestral scores for some of their repertoire. This led to us putting on the world premiere of amateur performances of four of their songs with orchestra, choir and rock band… and I got to play on A Whiter Shade of Pale!

What words of advice do you have for students participating in the PSC?
Enjoy the experience and don’t get too hung up on the competitive aspect. You’ll learn a lot and be able to look back with pride on the fact that you have taken part.

What can other members/supporters do to help?
At the moment, make sure you reply to my emails, keep volunteering and help to keep the momentum going during tough times. Don’t lose touch – hopefully live events will return in the not too distant future.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t think I ever had any burning ambition or life goal that I was desperate to fulfil, though there was always a feeling that I would go into something scientific. I qualified as a chemistry teacher and feel very lucky to have had a career in science education, which is a job that I have always loved. While that career was never defined by any specific goal, to have finished as a headteacher was a very satisfying culmination of my time in education.


Stephen spent over 40 years working in state comprehensive schools in the West Midlands, Reading, Milton Keynes and Bedfordshire. For the last 17 years he worked at Redborne Upper School in Ampthill, initially as deputy head and in the last 18 months as acting headteacher. His subject specialism is chemistry and as well as being a Head of Science, he was also part of the author team for Exploring Science, the leading Key Stage 3 science course in recent years.

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