An inspiring teacher: Boo Spurgeon and her powerful legacy

It’s a story of greatness. A story of one inspiring teacher and a story of the lifelong difference she has made to many who walked through her classroom door.

In the late 2000s, there was a mystery trend in one district of Sheffield: There were more gay teenagers.

Maybe Bebo, Myspace or the latest Hollyoaks plot was giving kids confidence?

Perhaps, but the same trend wasn’t seen at the schools down the road. It centred around one secondary school – Wisewood. And, for the kids who’d come out, there was a theme: an inspiring teacher, Ms Spurgeon.

With SLT and governors backing her, Boo had been changing Wisewood Secondary School’s approach to PSHE.

Solid ground rules, not much writing, and space to explore ideas were vital.

The impact was stark and quotes from Y11s show this.

When we think about amazing teachers, what does that mean? It’s making a difference that changes the entire path of a child’s life and Boo’s done that.

The fingerprints of an inspiring teacher

Students saw her fingerprints everywhere. Who knows what was said behind the staffroom door, but the kids spotted a culture shift. Some even commented on how, even though they didn’t witness the conversations with Boo, they knew that some of the male teachers had “changed” in things they said and did.

Hollywood star Ian McKellan

Anyway, Ian McKellen visited Wisewood in 2010. Lord of the Rings was still huge and Ian is an openly gay actor.

It’s quite something to be legendary or be students and have a legend walk amongst us.

Movie Legends are a great resource to engage Y10s, but the main work was done on normal weekdays. Showbiz stars work best when they enrich day-to-day work that was having an creeping impact on student’s beliefs. So the person who was the legend was not only the movie star but also the person leading the outstanding day to day work – Boo.

The school’s work had an impact on LGBTQ+ youngsters who felt safe to come out, but the impact was wider than that, it was everything you could think of. For example, making an environment where students feel so safe that they can talk about their own experiences (even those which we sometimes feel anxious to cover.”

Image is a quote

So, if you want inspiring women leaders – look no further than Boo Spurgeon. This one woman changed a community using PSHE, determination and ambition.

So what?

It matters because a generation (some now in their 30s) gained the words and understanding to deal with adult life. And, their mates did too. This is liberating. It’s an impact that will last for 75 years or more.

Even if the school doesn’t exist anymore, the legend does.

It’s ok to shout up about it even if your voice is small.

And that is inspiring teaching, that is Boo Spurgeon and a fine example of why PSHE matters.

Find out more:

Boo’s students voices on weekly PSHE teaching are reported in the Schools Health Education Unit journal. Click here.

Other Interesting reads

If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch.

  • Aaron King, Director

    With over 20 years experience of working with children & young people in both mainstream and SEND settings, Aaron King is the driving force behind 9000lives.

    Aaron has written for the TES, including in the Leadership & Governance sections. He has also been a school governor for around 15 years.

  • Aaron King

    Aaron King Director

  • Get in touch

    Have a question? Think we could help you? Please contact us to discuss how we might help you.

    Drop us an email or give us a call

    0788 42 42 719