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JEWELL, David 1934-2006 bio .well-known headteacher (public & private sector)

Guardian Thu 13 Jul 2006  by Stephen Bates ID Ref: I483

David Jewell, headteacher, born 24 March 1934; died 21 May 2006

(He is survived by Katharine, whom he married in 1958, their son and three daughters.)

David Jewell, who has died aged 72, was head of a succession of schools in both the state and independent sectors, a former chairman of the Headmasters' Conference and a man for whom the word ebullience might have been invented. He was, in turn, head of Bristol Cathedral school, Repton and Haileybury.

Large and genial, with an imposing presence but an engaging manner, Jewell had the self-confidence, authority and leadership skills to appear a natural headmaster, of the sort fee-paying parents would readily recognise and to whom they could gratefully entrust their sons. His booming voice, with its traces of a Cornish burr, could echo across a quadrangle, and his stentorian singing would rattle the stained glass windows of the chapel. His parties were legendary. Yet his extrovert style only partially concealed an unsnobbish and quieter, more serious and intellectual man, passionately concerned about injustice and broadening educational opportunities, a Labour party supporter and MCC member.

The son of an RAF wing-commander, Jewell was born in Porthleven, West Cornwall, the village to which he retired and where he died. He was educated at Blundell's school, Devon, and St John's College, Oxford, where he read chemistry and met his future wife, Katharine. After national service in the RAF he became a teacher at Eastbourne College and then at Winchester for five years (also chairing the local Labour party), before taking the unusual step of moving into the state sector.

He was deputy head of Lawrence Weston comprehensive school, Bristol, for three years, before moving to the city's cathedral school. That was then in the state sector, but became independent under his headship following the abolition of direct grant status.

In 1979 he moved to Repton, the Derbyshire public school, which he re-energised and whose academic results he improved, before going on in 1987 to Haileybury College, in the depths of Hertfordshire. The school had been founded to train the sons of empire for the Indian civil service, but by the time of Jewell's arrival it was a rather old-fashioned and spartan institution for children from the middle-class suburbs of north London, in direct competition with a rash of similar establishments around the M25 corridor.

Jewell played his part in humanising a school that had retained its barrack-like dormitories at a time when parents were demanding a more civilised and informal atmosphere for their sons. He brought in new staff, some from the state sector, abolished corporal punishment - asserting, like most public school heads of his generation, that hitting children was a sign of weakness not control - and raised the profile of Haileybury. He was extremely proud of the fact that Clement Attlee was an old boy of the school and ensured that the former Labour prime minister was properly commemorated there for the first time.

In other ways Haileybury retained its character, strong in sport and drama (Alan Ayckbourn is also an old boy) and not obsessive about exam results. When parents complained that universities were biased against the independent sector, Jewell retorted that it was often a case of them trying to excuse "the less than distinguished performances of their offspring". He had little time for such parents and certainly did not suck up to them. Pupils knew that he was passionately concerned about their welfare and character.

In 1990, Jewell became chairman of the Headmasters' Conference, giving the role a much higher profile than most of his predecessors or successors, and accordingly arousing some suspicion among his more fastidious colleagues. It was, however, a time of educational upheaval and he recognised the need for independent schools to lobby the government as a voice of value in the schools debate. He supported the Tory government's assisted places scheme as a means of broadening educational opportunity.

I came to appreciate David Jewell's qualities when I was education editor of this newspaper, and we stayed in touch afterwards, through his retirement after 1997. He was by no means as stuffy or as cautious of dealing with the Guardian as some of his colleagues, and wrote on occasion for the Education supplement. Characteristically, his last Christmas card expostulated against the inhumanity of some evangelicals within his beloved Church of England towards the gay people in their midst. He is survived by Katharine, whom he married in 1958, their son and three daughters.

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