Terry Heard (Class of 1959)

As pupil, teacher, Second Master and archivist Terry Heard’s association with CLS stretches back almost 70 years. After reading Mathematics at Cambridge, Terry taught in Tanzania before returning to City in 1967, staying for 30 years, including 17 as Second Master. Now, Terry, the author of a series of maths textbooks, is publishing a new book, ‘The First Master’. It tells the story of John Allen Giles, City’s first head and his role in the intriguing early history of the School.  

You have spent most of your life at CLS – is that a surprise or did you always want to do that?

Well, I was always very happy at CLS as a pupil, but I didn’t plan to come back and teach – that came about in quite specific circumstances. After that, the reason I stayed so long as a teacher – until I retired, in fact – was because the prospect of moving the School to a new site. It had already been talked about on and off for about 30 years but my first staff meeting in January 1967 was the first time the possibility of moving to the new riverside site was mentioned. That discussion went on for nearly 20 more years until anything happened. By then, I was so involved with the moving plan that I wanted to see it through.

How did you come to be a pupil in the first place?

It was my idea. I was brought up in Muswell Hill and was expected to go to the local grammar school, like my brother. But a friend of mine was at City of London School for Girls: she seemed to think it was a good place and told me there was a boys school as well. I took a fancy to the idea and announced that I’d like to go there – without really knowing anything about it at all.

I felt at home right from the start. I always like it there and made good friends. I got on quite well academically and, on the whole, the teachers were terrific.

Which teachers inspired you most?

My maths teacher who really stood out was Gordon Nobbs. He was Second Master and just a wonderful teacher and a great man and he became a very good friend. He taught me when I first arrived and I got to know and like him, then he taught me so well in fifth form that I decided to do Maths at A-Level.

Another one I was very fond of was Horace Brearley, father of [former England cricket captain] Mike. Mike and I were in the same class for three years. Horace was a very good teacher and, again, a lovely man. We got to be good friends as well as teacher and pupil.

Ray Green was another notable character. He became Head of Maths after Gordon Nobbs retired. He was absolutely meticulous. Getting to know him as a colleague, I realised there was a lot more to him than I had realised as a pupil.

With Ray, everything was presented to perfection. Gordon Nobbs was an equally good mathematician, but you got the idea he was thinking it through afresh every time. He said he never got tired of teaching quadratic equations: you’re teaching it to different people every time and exploring the topic with them rather than handing it down from on high.

A lot of alumni mention a particular teaching style, more interested in general learning than exams…

I suppose the School appointed people who loved their subject and let them get on with it. There was less assessment and grading of teachers and even school reports were fairly minimal. In those days, exams were treated in a pretty relaxed fashion, too. Nobody obsessed about them the way they do now. Six months before the exams they’d say, ‘I’m afraid we’ve got some exams coming up’ and then you might do some past papers to practice. And it seemed to work.

Did you always know you would be a teacher?

I had thoughts of being an architect – I’m still interested in that even now – but

I can tell you the moment I first thought I’d like to be a teacher. It was in Junior Sixth, in Horace Brearley’s mechanics lesson. He called me up to show the class my solution to a problem and I remember getting a response from my classmates: they could follow what I was doing and I thought, ‘This is rather good’. And that was when I first thought of teaching.

As a teacher, how does the satisfaction of seeing 11-year-olds picking something up compare to teaching more advanced pupils?

It’s different… it’s always the satisfaction of seeing the penny drop. But, with the older ones, it’s not just satisfaction, it can also be admiration at the rate they can absorb ideas and run with them. With the really bright ones you don’t have to teach them, you just need to point them in the right direction and they go.

How did you end up coming back to teach at City?

I went to Cambridge and read Mathematics for three years and then did a postgrad teaching certificate. I didn’t want to go straight back to a British school. At that time there was government scheme to provide teachers in East Africa and I got a place to teach in Tanzania for 27 months.

I could have renewed the contract, but the need for ex-patriot teachers was gradually disappearing and I thought at some point I would not be needed and I might also miss the career boat back in England. I’d kept in touch with Gordon Nobbs and I wrote to him, seeking his advice. He suggested there was going to be a vacancy in the Maths department and my application might be looked upon favourably. I never planned to stay for the rest of my teaching career.

What was it like, going to work in Tanzania?

I arrived at 10 o’clock at night at Dar es Salaam airport, ten miles outside the City and there was nobody there to meet me. I was the last passenger at the airport, hovering around. I asked at the information desk and the chap at the desk opened a big book and phoned the Minister of Education! Which at 11 at night was not very welcome! Eventually he got on to the right person who came out to get me.

I was in a big secondary school in the capital, Dar es Salaam. It was great.  I loved it. I loved the wide open spaces of East Africa, travelling around in the holidays. It was wonderful. It did me a world of good. I grew up a lot.

Did you have any trepidation going into the staff room as an ex-pupil and also going in front of a class at City for the first time?

Yes and yes! But the staff were very friendly and welcoming. I knew most of them from my time at the school and when I became head of department seven years later I had people in my department who had taught me in the first place – of which they regularly used to remind me.

As for the boys, I pretty soon realised my experience as a pupil had been fairly limited.  I hadn’t really been aware of ‘the tail’ as a boy – the number of pupils who were in danger of getting left behind – but as a teacher you soon realise how you need to adapt.

The pupil-teacher relationship has always been informal and friendly at CLS. For a young teacher, only a few years older than some of the pupils, getting that right can be a bit tricky at first.

You don’t get tired ‘teaching the same thing year after year’, as some people might think of it. You’re teaching different people who react in different ways and have different problems. You have to approach problems in new ways. It’s quite fascinating. I never grew tired of that challenge.

Who were the big characters in the staff room?

Cyril Bond was a great character. He was another Old Citizen who had returned to teach and stayed for his whole career. He was a distinguished military man with, it might seem, quite a gruff demeanour - but actually he wasn’t at all unfriendly or difficult to talk to. I got on well with him.

Denis Moore, who was Head of Classics and the Second Master before me, was a real cultured gentleman. He ran the Fencing Club for a while: I worked with him on that and he was also a keen musician like me. So we had a lot in common. He was a great friend. My colleagues were a great bunch.

Which extra-curricular activities had you enjoyed as a pupil?

I really enjoyed fencing. I got into the second team. I liked the mathematical side of it. It felt like a game of chess played at speed, which I found quite fascinating. I was becoming interested in music at school, too. I used to go to a lot of proms but I didn’t play an instrument. I still regret not joining the choir. I do a lot of choral singing now so school was a wasted opportunity.

By the time I came back to school I had got involved in music. I played as a member of staff in various orchestras and bands and singing in choirs, which I really enjoyed. I only started playing the clarinet and signing in choirs during my PGCE year. Then in Tanzania, anyone who could do anything musical was greeted with open arms even if you couldn’t play all the notes. You just all mucked in. That period really built my confidence as a musician.

After I retired, I took up the double bass as well and I play in couple of local orchestras and it’s great fun.

You retired quite early, didn’t you?

I was 56. I’d had to have a fairly major operation the previous year which knocked the stuffing out of me and I was finding it quite hard going. I’d been Second Master for 17 years with four different headmasters and I felt I was getting a bit jaded. All the fresh ideas people suggested I had to bite my tongue from saying, ‘We tried that ten years ago.’ So I had the opportunity to retire early on medical grounds and I took it.

Which of your former pupils’ progress has been most memorable for you?

Maybe the most memorable moment was the year I retired in 1997 when two of my former pupils were elected members of the Royal Society at the same time. Both of them were mathematicians: Bernard Silverman and Peter Kronheimer, who became a Professor at Harvard. I was there to see them sign the book with Isaac Newton’s signature in it. That was a great thrill.

There was also a time when Bristol University’s four professors of Mathematics were all former pupils of mine. I was rather chuffed with that.

Even after you retired, you came back to work at the school, didn’t you?

I’d been retired for quite a while when I was asked back to sort out the archives for three days a month and I did that for ten years until 2016. 

Now, you have written a book about the School’s early history…

I was always interested to know: who were the people who had to try and set up this school out of nothing? It’s an interesting story and the first headmaster, John Allen Giles, in particular, was an interesting character. He only lasted three years and he ended up resigning just before he was sacked. He didn’t get on with the chairman of governors. The governors would march into the classroom while he was teaching and so on. In the end he got fed up with it. I’ve written the story of that time – it’s called The First Master and we are publishing it this August or September.

Both the School and the John Carpenter Club have been very helpful in supporting the publication and marketing, and the book will be available via the John Carpenter Bookshop, with a pre-publication reduced price offer available until 16 July.