Queen Elizabeth II: Schools’ memories of a beloved monarch

The education community remembers the Queen’s warmth, leadership and legendary quick wit during meetings across her 70-year reign

The education community remembers the Queen’s warmth, leadership and legendary quick wit during meetings across her 70-year reign

16 Sep 2022, 10:00

Long read

Sixteen-year-old Donna Tandy was horrified when her camera’s flash lit up Queen Elizabeth II’s face in 1990. She had, after all, been told to make sure it was switched off.

Seeing her concern, the Queen winked back. It’s a memory that has stayed with Tandy – now the chief executive at the Palladian Trust – for more than 30 years.

She is among dozens of school leaders and teachers from London to the Lake District who have remembered the Queen’s warmth, leadership and legendary quick wit during meetings across her 70-year reign.

After her death last Thursday, aged 96, students have also reflected on her values. They also made marmalade sandwiches in dedication to the Paddington Bear sketch filmed for her platinum jubilee.

‘A truly exemplary character’

Since her coronation in 1953, the Queen has shaken hands and shared conversations with thousands of schoolchildren.

In 2012, the Queen and her husband Prince Philip enjoyed a verse in Bengali from year 1 children at Krishna Avanti Primary School in Harrow, London, as part of her diamond jubilee celebrations

Nitesh Gor (pictured above), the chief executive of the Avanti Schools Trust that runs the school, says: “What I was most impressed by during those precious hours of her visit was how instantly approachable and genuinely caring she was to all, regardless of age, role, or anything else.

Queen Elizabeth
A memorable moment for head Mike Chapman and Marie Lee

“That’s a rare human quality. I’m left feeling that meeting a monarch was quite awe-inspiring, but more than anything, I will hold on to the memory of experiencing a truly exemplary character.”

‘It’s something I will never forget’

The monarch made two visits to Keswick School in the Lake District, the last in 1998 to mark the merging of two school sites.

Marie Lee, a music teacher of 30 years, came in from maternity leave to conduct the choir’s “The Rhythm of Life”, a quick beat song from the musical Sweet Charity.

The Queen remarked how the song needed strong diction and wished Lee well on her leave, before enjoying lunch cooked by pupils.

“It’s something I will never forget, just the fact she made the time and came here had a big impact on the town,” Lee says. “It was a once in a lifetime chance.”

Former pupils at West Kidlington Primary School, in Oxfordshire, still approach teaching assistant Alison Cook in the street to reminisce about meeting the Queen at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum in 2009.

“We felt she really engaged with children. They were buzzing afterwards, she made them feel special,” Cook says.

Queen Elizabeth
Year 5 students from West Kidlington Primary School still remember meeting the monarch at Oxfords Ashmolean Museum

‘A masterclass in leadership’

Hundreds of educators have been mentioned in the Queen’s twice-yearly honours.

Receiving his MBE in 2016, retired headteacher Ian Clayton says he was “nervous” to meet the Queen, but she was “briefed sufficiently” and immediately started a conversation, making him feel “much more relaxed”.

Queen Elizabeth
Ian Clayton receiving his MBE

Clayton, who led Thorpe St Andrew school in Norwich, says there was “a real interest. She listened, she questioned. And I think in that moment it made me feel as if my story really mattered to her.”

Clayton says the Queen also demonstrated her sense of humour when, referring to a primary school leader who brought his whole school to stand outside Buckingham Palace, remarked she was “really glad you didn’t bring your nearly 2,000 pupils with you”.

“[She was] so fast, so sharp to connect those things and to hear what I’d said about the school, and what a way to bring it to its conclusion. It was absolutely lovely.”

The REAch2 Trust founder and former chief executive Sir Steve Lancashire, knighted in 2016, says the Queen gave school leaders a “masterclass in brilliant leadership”.

“In my conversation with her about my CEO role she had clearly been well-briefed and commented ‘I understand you run 52 schools, (correct at the time), you can’t possibly do all that yourself. I suppose you’re rather like me and have other people to do most of the hard work!’”

‘Inspiration for women leadership’

Tandy says the Queen was an inspiration for “women leadership”.

The 16-year-old Tandy met the Queen on an air force base in Germany where her dad worked, but she accidentally left the flash on her camera.

“I took a photograph and it flared up. My dad was standing nearby – the look on his face meant I knew I was in so much trouble. The Queen saw and I said ‘I’m really sorry’ and she winked at me.”

The Queen was patron of a number of education charities and schools, which it is thought will be redistributed among other members of the Royal Family,

Gordon’s School, a state boarding school in Woking Surrey, has invited students to “light a candle in the chapel” to their patron the Queen whose “legacy of faithful leadership and selfless service will be remembered by generations and will inspire future generations”.

Marmalade sandwiches for Ma’am

Schools will close on Monday as part of a bank holiday to mark the Queen’s funeral, but normal attendance has been expected throughout the rest of the 10-day mourning period.

Kit Malthouse, the education secretary, said the Queen’s “devotion” to public service “has been an inspiration” with her “wisdom and strength” providing “solace to her people in times of darkness, most recently during the pandemic”.

“By her grace and dignity, Her Majesty touched the lives of millions, and she will live on in our hearts.”

Queen Elizabeth
An area of reflection at St Dominics Primary School

In remembrance, foundation stage children at Archbishop Cranmer Primary Academy in Nottinghamshire made marmalade sandwiches in a nod to the Queen’s Platinum jubilee sketch with Paddington Bear.

Melanie Stevens, the school’s head, says pupils remembered how the Queen compared sandwiches with Paddington – “they loved that clip so much”.

St Dominic’s Catholic Primary School in Harpenden, Herts, set up a dedicated area for reflection and prayers. “It was lovely to see children in their lunchtime just coming up to the area saying ‘I’m going to light a candle for the Queen and say a prayer’,” says Madeline Walsh, the school’s SENCO.  

Year 5 children at Gawber Primary in Barnsley made templates of her silhouette for a special book one student will take to London to lay in tribute.

Pupils at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Worcester are leaving prayer-filled Post-it notes on a cardboard cut-out of the Queen. They are also learning about King Charles, says headteacher Louise Bury. “He will be their future and their monarch during their lives.”

Flags at half-mast in memory of Queen Elizabeth

Thousands of teachers wore dark clothes after the Queen’s death was announced last week.

Flags flew at half-mast at about one in 10 primary schools and almost one in five secondaries after the news was announced last Thursday evening, polling by Teacher Tapp suggests.

Twenty-two per cent of primary and 16 per cent of secondary teachers say they wore dark clothes last Friday to mark the long-serving monarch’s death..

The government told schools not to close during the mourning period, though they will close next Monday, the day of her funeral.

Queen Elizabeth

Most primary schools organised special assemblies last Friday, while almost half of secondary schools used registration or tutor periods for special activities.

Around one in four primary schools changed lesson content in response to the news. Secondary schools were less likely to do so, with 5 per cent of teachers reporting a change on the day after the announcement and 9 per cent saying they planned to do so in the mourning period.

The survey suggests just 8 per cent of primary schools and 15 per cent of secondary schools did not mark her death last Friday, with 25 per cent not planning anything for the rest of the mourning period.

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