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Camden New Journal - OBITUARY
Published: 11 July 2008

Michael Marland, a colourful but free spirit
Head who broke down walls that cut off schools

MICHAEL Marland, who died in Islington last week from cancer, aged 73, was a dangerous teacher and a defender of comprehensive education in north London and the world beyond.
He blew his own trumpet, but he also played it to bring down walls of Jericho which, far too often, cut the school off from the local neighbourhood. The old guard of headmasters and headmistresses clung tenaciously to their exclusive domains. But he will long be remembered for letting the outside world in.
I describe him as dangerous because he did not hesitate to support and defend as well as teach his staff. He had a high regard for their vocational competence but realised that those who stand in front of a class must be given opportunities to expand and periodically refresh themselves.
His staff were too often harassed and overworked in the classroom, so he would take them to his reconstructed cottage in Suffolk. He loved it there because it was near the stamping ground of Benjamin Britten, whose music he had a passion for. Often in what could be a damp climate, he poured them excellent mulled claret, the act of a civilised and civilising man.
His father had been a musician in the famous dance band of Henry Hall, which might have been the reason for Michael’s perennial bow tie and a hairstyle resembling that favoured by Hungarian csárdás players on romantic nights.
Always ready to adjust to change, his written work proved invaluable not just to experienced teachers but to tyros who had entered the profession late. He loved the short story format and realised quickly how poetry can release a spring even in the most surly adolescents. For he was superb in the propagation of the teaching of English.
I came across some of his written advice and applied it in the English department where I was the head. We quickly absorbed it and it helped to make our  lives less stressful.
The relevance of the community and the importance of the home for the children were placed sympathetically and firmly within the school framework.
In 1980 he took over North Westminster Community School, based on three sites. He had come from Islington’s Manor Park School. The three schools became more cohesive and developed a distinctive style.
To him, these working-class kids deserved the best, not least in the arts. He built a studio theatre and coaxed in people of worldwide renown. The great black diva Jessye Norman and baritone Willard White; writers Margaret Drabble, Fay Weldon and that old ­devil Keith Waterhouse came  along, adding to the growing pride of Michael’s pupils and, in the main, of his colleagues who succumbed to his mild exuberance.
He served in NW Westminster for 19 years. They gave him a CBE, but the ringing endorsements of those who passed through the gates were perhaps sweeter to him.
Continuing in a determined way throughout retirement, he believed in what the London School Plan of 1948 set out to achieve: “good education, adequate and relevant.” “Failing schools” were not words in his lexicon. He hammered out some fine human currency without hiding behind the hollow shield of academies.
His legacy is his noble achievement – a colourful but free spirit who touched and enhanced so many young lives.

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