Anthony Donovan O’Connor was the first Black teacher from the Windrush era to be appointed as head teacher in the UK. He became head teacher of Bearwood Junior and Infant School, now Bearwood Primary School from 1967 to 1983. His family home was in Hall Green in the suburbs of Birmingham. He was married and had two daughters.
Born in Jamaica in 1918 in Kingston, Jamaica, he attended St John’s College completing Cambridge Certificates in English Language, Mathematics, Biology, History, Geography, Religious education and Spanish at age 16. He then progressed to study at Cosmopolitan High School, where he later became a teacher.
What was the time period like?:
Anthony O’Connor arrived in the UK in 1943. Like many people arriving from the Caribbean at that time, and several years following, he was recruited to help to rebuild the country after it had been devastated during World Wars 1 and 2. He joined the Royal Air Force as a volunteer and served a five year commission.
At the end of his term with the RAF, Anthony O’Connor completed a further course of teacher training with the Ministry of Education. After teaching in various schools, he was made deputy head teacher at St Matthew’s Church of England Primary School followed by his headship in Bearwood.
Not only was Anthony O’Connor a pioneer in education, he also became the first Black magistrate in Birmingham.
It was well known that at the time Anthony O’Connor became a teacher in the UK, racism was rife. In and around the areas in which he taught in Smethwick, racist slogans and Nazi graffiti were common place. Derogatory comments were daubed on walls of his school and threats made to his person. Such was the threat to him and his family, he sent his daughters to live in the rural countryside for protection.
In 1965, Malcolm X chose Smethwick as part of his political campaign because there, he thought he could influence and garner the Black support for his political activity. Shortly after his return to the United States, he was assassinated.
A Commemorative Facebook Page dedicated to the memory of Mr. O’Connor has been constructed in support of a campaign to erect a plaque in his honour.
What influence have they had on Modern Day UK?:
Anthony O’Connor was instrumental in shaping how mathematics was taught in the West Midlands. He was invited to join a group of four teachers to organise Nuffield Primary Mathematics during the early stages of its development. His role was fundamental in its success. His approach was the first of its kind and involved in-service training for staff in all schools taking part in the project.
He organised and taught on induction courses for newly qualified and temporary teachers for the Local Authority and often recommended purchases to the Local Authority for the Education Library.
His pioneering work for teachers and youth leaders in the use of: audio visual aids in education, tape recorders, film strip projectors, sound projectors and overhead projectors, were novel in the 1970s. These were approaches he introduced to enhance education in local schools.
Anthony Donovan O’Connor continues to be held in high esteem by peers, past pupils and parents of Bearwood Junior and Infant School and the community. And, in honour of his work at the school, one of its laboratories has been named after him.
The call now is for everyone to share and celebrate the amazing contribution and legacy of this outstanding pioneer headteacher.
Born: 17th February 1918
Died: 30th January 2006
Jamaica 60 Years Anniversary -Celebrating Jamaican Head Teachers in The UK 1948-72
Tony O’Connor Commemorative Page: Britain’s first Black Headteacher
Smethwick-West Midlands: A campaign to honour Britain’s first black headmaster (Bearwood Primary)