Millfield business studies teacher Hilary Shergold has won a lifetime achievement award for her services to teaching.
Hilary, 70, from near Wells, has been a teacher for 48 years and was announced the winner of the prestigious national award at the TES (Times Education Supplement) ceremony in Park Lane, London, last night (Fri 17 June).
From teaching tens of thousands of school children by day, to classes and theatre trips for prison inmates by night, Hilary taught for 47 years in the state sector, and is now in her first year in independent education at Millfield.
Hilary started her career aged 23, at Rednock School, Dursley, and then moved on to Ansford School, Castle Cary. She joined The Blue School, Wells, where she stayed for 43 years, witnessing the school grow from 1,200 to 1,600+.
The widow, who was married to a Prison Governor who governed Shepton Mallet Prison, reflected on her life and said “I had a job and a husband that I loved; I’ve been very lucky.”
Her teenage desire to work in TV, after reading letters live on the six o’clock news in Plymouth, didn’t materialise and Hilary’s motivation to become an English teacher was the flexibility to move with her husband’s job.
It led her to teach A level English to prisoners at Leyhill Open Prison and supervise theatre trips to Bristol Old Vic.
“Teaching wasn’t my first choice but I absolutely loved it, from the minute I got into the classroom, I have always loved the direct contact with kids,” Hilary said.
Initially an English teacher at The Blue School, she set up a school bookshop to create a demand for reading. Spotting the need for vocational courses she created a Business department, enrolling at UWE in Bristol for a day a week to retrain. By the 1980s Hilary had taught herself to use an Amstrad computer, delivered CLAIT, and was teaching English, Business and Computing.
Her instinct is to think divergently, offering children courses for changing times. This led her to join the Government committee to determine final NVQ vocational qualifications as a representative of the RSA, who then offered her a Fellowship for her development work.
Establishing NVQs in The Blue School, the only school in the country to do so, Hilary piloted GNVQ qualifications in Business and Leisure & Tourism and helped to initiate a City & Guilds Professional Cookery Course.
Next came Quality Nominator for BTEC managing Business, Leisure and Tourism, expanding into, Health and Social Care, Sport, Construction and Engineering.
She retired in Summer 2021 for a few weeks, but Millfield was looking for a business teacher for one term and she signed up and has stayed.
On her teaching career, Hilary said: “Students suddenly get something and you think, yes, success! But, it’s the relationship you create, that’s what I’ve always loved.”
“It’s instinctively within you to be able to communicate with children so that they trust you. You will always get the odd one or two who are distracted, but it is so satisfying when you get through to them.”
“I like the ability to be able to change and adapt to different areas which is why I like business. You can bring in politics, economics, war, everything that effects business.”
An only child of a controlling mother meant Hilary’s childhood wasn’t a happy one; “Coming from a damaged background I empathise with children more. I identify with and recognise their problems”
“I get a buzz from mixing with kids. I’m 70, but I don’t feel 70. I can still connect with children; their differences fascinate me.”
Hilary’s husband died in 2018 from Parkinson’s; she’d spent 6 years being a carer whilst still teaching. She sat on the Parkinson’s UK Research board and is a reviewer for the NIHR.
She faced lonely times during the first lockdown but a Facebook page of former school students brought her joy. “I received over 200 comments about how much they’d enjoyed my lessons, how much I’d helped them and how much they appreciated me. It was completely beyond my expectations.”
Steve Jackson, former Head of The Blue School said: “Hilary made an incredible difference to the outcomes for generations of students. The establishment of an exceptionally wide and relevant range of vocational courses together with consistently outstanding results - a Headteacher’s dream!”
Millfield Deputy Head, Alex Haydon, said: “Hilary is a shining example of a true teacher and everyone who has had the pleasure of working with her has learnt greatly from her knowledge and experience. We are thrilled that she has received this recognition.”
Millfield student Charlie said: “Honestly one of the best business teachers I have had. You help me so much, not only with business but other school life too.”