An innovative education legacy project named in honour of Leeds’ first Black headteacher is being launched in the city to inspire young people from mainly African and Caribbean backgrounds.
Gertrude Paul broke the mould when she started work as the city’s first Black headmistress, and she went on to create a lasting legacy for the Chapeltown community.
Now her legacy is set to continue in the classroom with a groundbreaking education research project named in her honour.
The Gertrude Paul doctoral studentship, launched by Leeds Beckett University, will focus on improving maths and literacy with primary school children from mainly African and Caribbean backgrounds.
Professor Damien Page, Dean of the university’s school of education, said the four-year classroom project aims to improve attainment in core subjects and inspire young people in their educational and career aspirations.
He said: “Gertrude Paul was an inspirational figure not just in the education system, but for society in general. She broke down barriers and became a role model for many more to follow,” he said.
Professor Page said despite many good intentions and programmes, there is still a marked difference in the achievements of children of colour compared to their peers, not just in schools, but in further and higher education.
He said: “By understanding the education experiences of children and their families involved in the project, and by tackling core issues in maths and literacy, we can better serve learners from all backgrounds.”
The initiative named in Gertrude’s honour is a collaboration with Ujima – a community group providing tutoring and personal development for primary and secondary school pupils from Black African or Black Caribbean backgrounds in Chapeltown
Marina Active, director of Ujima, said the community group’s purpose is to support local young people to realise their fullest potential both academically and personally so that they thrive now and in their future lives.
She said: “We encourage students to achieve their full potential academically, economically, socially and emotionally.
“With this encouragement, our aim is that these young people will be inspired to achieve the best for themselves, their families and their community, and in turn will inspire others.”
The eldest of 11 children, Gertrude has already helped create a lasting legacy in the education sector across West Yorkshire after she moved from St Kitts and Nevis to the UK in 1956.
Despite having completed her British teacher training qualification in the Antigua teacher training college, she was required to complete another teacher training course in the UK. She pursued her dream and graduated from the James Graham College of education (now known as the Carnegie school of education, at Leeds Beckett University) in the early 1960s.
The first Black teacher in Leeds, Gertrude predominantly taught in primary schools in south and north east Leeds, before becoming head teacher in 1976 of Elmhurst Middle School (now known as Bracken Edge Primary) in Chapeltown.
Besides her teaching commitments, Gertrude did much for the community outside of the classroom. She was one of the founders of the West Indian Carnival in Leeds, which has become one of the highlights of the city’s events calendar.
The mother-of-two also established many voluntary organisations from the early 1960s after she moved to England from St Kitts. She set up the Leeds International Women’s Group, the Afro Asian Organisation and the United Caribbean Association. She also served on the Commission for Racial Equality, which advised the Government.
She died in 1992, and 19 years later in 2011, Leeds Civic Trust placed a blue plaque on the Bracken Edge building. It was unveiled by Gertrude’s daughter Heather Paul, who is a lecturer from the department of education, at Leeds Beckett University.
Heather said: “In West Yorkshire Gertrude was a mother to the whole community… her legacy in education is about working beyond the school gate and creating relationships within diverse communities.
“My mother believed in equality for all in education and she said in order to make society more equal you had to be deliberate and kind with your strategies and not be afraid of the changes.
She added: “Gertrude became the first black teacher at a time when we still had a lot of mythology around black people…One of the things that underpinned her drive and ambition was working in partnership with parents and children to dispel myths around certain communities and support the development of all children to achieve.
“She wasn’t just a head teacher or a teacher, she did as many things outside to connect parents and the generations with developing young people and fighting for social justice across a range of issues.
“It’s important to remember that it’s a necessity to have diverse teachers, from all back grounds, who have the skills to develop children and young people, who are also diverse, to reach their full potential.”
The selected Gertrude Paul doctoral studentship will be announced by Leeds Beckett University, later this year.