Steve was born in 1951 into a working class family in Liverpool, England. He graduated from London’s Middlesex Polytechnic with a BA in social sciences in 1974, and trained as a teacher at Edge Hill college in Ormskirk, where he joined the National Union of Teachers, the UK’s largest teachers’ union representing teachers in England and Wales. He taught humanities and was NUT school representative at Shorefields Comprehensive School in Toxteth, Liverpool. In 1979 he moved to Broughton High School near Preston, where he was head of economics and business studies.
Steve was elected to the NUT’s National Executive in 1986 and became chair of its membership and communications committee and then of its action committee. He was elected as the union’s national president in 1994. He proclaimed his pride at being the first holder of that office to have attended a comprehensive school.
In 1994, in the middle of his year as National President, Steve was elected as the NUT’s Deputy General Secretary. Ten years later he was
elected General Secretary. In both offices he extended the scope of the union’s international work. He always insisted that this work should never be tokenistic, and that the Union should never raise expectations it could not deliver.
He won widespread admiration for his support of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association. He played a major role in the campaign for the release of its president, Dr Taye Woldesmiate, whom Steve visited in prison in Addis Ababa and who was eventually freed in May 2002.
Steve also worked with the Commonwealth Secretariat to draft a protocol on teacher recruitment, signed by Commonwealth education ministers in 2004 at an NUT-hosted meeting. The protocol covered teachers moving from Commonwealth countries to fill vacancies in Britain at the expense
of their own hard-pressed services.
In both his professional and his private life, Steve was a passionate believer in the Millennium Development Goals, in particular Millennium Development Goal 2, the goal for education to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. It’s a goal for some 57 million of the world’s children.
Steve worked hard to promote MDG2 in his work with teachers’ organisations worldwide. The respect given to Steve’s name now provides the Foundation
with opportunities to reach, and to help unite, millions of teachers, educators, charity workers, political leaders and others who are committed to Education for All.
Steve’s values continue to provide the impetus for the work of the Foundation. He was a great believer in the power of people in their communities, unified in a cause, to achieve change for the better. He campaigned for election to the post of General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers in England and Wales under the slogan “Working Together, Winning Together”. He delighted in leading NUT Annual Conferences in singing Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together” with its lyric:
Together we stand
Divided we fall
Come on now, people
Let’s get on the ball
And work together
In February 2007, Steve delivered the prestigious Hugh Gaitskell Memorial Lecture at Nottingham University. A passage from that speech has been often quoted in tributes to him. It sums up his optimism, and his deeply held conviction in the power of education. He often called it “the great liberator”
“I think there are those who are hopeful supporters and activists for justice, human rights and equality; and there is the rest. Those who exude hope and optimism generate the energy and stimulate the progress that we in education and progressive teacher trade unionism, for example, work for. I find such people are as fascinated as I think I am by the liberating power of education in this country and across the world.”
Steve died suddenly on the morning of 5th April 2008. Tributes poured in from around the world, from politicians, leading education campaigners, from colleagues and teachers throughout the UK. It was obvious that Steve was held in great respect and that he would be sorely missed.
It was at his funeral a few days later that the idea of establishing a Foundation to maintain the momentum of Steve’s work in support of Education for All first arose. Within a few weeks, the process of establishing a UK charity had begun. Two of Steve’s colleagues, the NUT’s Senior Solicitor, Graham Clayton and leading NUT Executive member Jerry Glazier joined with Steve’s wife Mary and his successor as NUT General Secretary, Christine Blower to become the Trustees and Directors of the Foundation. Lord Puttnam readily agreed to become the Foundation’s patron.
The work of forming the Foundation’s constitution and registering the organisation as a charity in England and Wales was completed to enable the first launch of the Foundation at the NUT’s HQ in London in May 2009 attended by leading figures in education in the UK including the then Minister of State for International Development, Ivan Lewis MP and with a message of support from the then Prime Minster Gordon Brown.
The Foundation appointed its first Project Manager, Sam Tiwari, in November 2009 and she was immediately “thrown into the deep end” when she spoke at the UK Parliamentary launch of the Foundation on 1st December 2009. This event which has marked the date on which the Foundation first became active was attended by the then Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls and his then shadow counterparts, Conservative Michael Gove MP, and Liberal Democrat David Laws together with former Secretaries of State for Education, Baroness Morris and Jacqui Smith and other MPs and peers.