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193 teaching alumni receive Honorary degrees

10 August 2023

Newcastle University has this week awarded almost 200 Honorary B.Ed. degrees to recognise the significant contribution made by alumni to teaching in t

In a special ceremony that took place yesterday (9 October) in King’s Hall on campus, 126 people who had received Certificates of Teaching from partner colleges of Newcastle University prior to the introduction of the B.Ed. in 1970 were celebrated. A further 67 people who couldn’t join the celebrations on campus will receive their honorary degree in the post.

Graduates from Northumberland College of Education, Kenton Lodge College of Education, City of Newcastle upon Tyne College of Education, Northern Counties College of Education and St Mary’s College of the Sacred Heart arrived on campus along with their guests to have their lifetime contribution to the teaching community recognised.

Professor Julie Morris, Head of the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences (ECLS) at Newcastle University, had the honour of introducing our teaching alumni on stage to receive their honorary degrees from Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nigel Harkness. She said:

“We are delighted to be able to recognise these colleagues, their achievements and their contribution to education and the teaching profession. The University has a long tradition of teacher education, of which the graduates celebrated today are an important part. Making a difference in education, in children and young people’s lives is at the heart of what we do and of the celebration today.”

As is tradition at Newcastle University, the academic procession from ECLS entered King’s Hall in the Armstrong Building led by a Northumbrian piper. The ceremony was presided over by Professor Nigel Harkness, who opened the ceremony jokingly apologising for the delay to the ceremony – of 50 years! – before welcoming each graduate on stage in turn to receive their honorary degree and parchment from the university’s Registrar, Dr Colin Campbell.

Following the graduation ceremony in King’s Hall, alumni and guests were welcomed to a reception on campus where they could reconnect with former classmates and share memories of their time training for their Certificate of Teaching.

Prior to the introduction of the B.Ed. at Newcastle University in 1970, teaching students who entered on the old regulations did not have the option to graduate with an honours degree. When Newcastle University’s Senate was made aware of this anomaly in early 2023, they voted unanimously and enthusiastically to join other institutions in retrospectively offering this opportunity to its alumni community.


A global community of inspirational educators

The teaching alumni recognised in this special ceremony have gone on to shape the learning of countless children around the world, with graduates now residing in Greece, Spain and Canada to name but a few.

“The Honorary B.Ed. award recognises the work and dedication of alumni who have made a significant impact in the teaching profession across the region and beyond.

Today’s event has been a chance to celebrate the lifelong achievements of graduates who were taught at partner colleges in the late 1960s. In preparing for the ceremony, I’ve been struck by the amazing stories of former students who have gone on to make such a difference to so many lives.

It has been wonderful to meet so many graduates and their families today and I hope they enjoyed this chance to get together again at the University.”

Dr Colin Campbell, Registrar at Newcastle University


One attendee at the ceremony, Helen Valenzuela (née Gibson), had travelled all the way from Madrid to receive her honorary degree from Newcastle University. Since graduating in 1970, Helen has kept in touch with her classmates from Ponteland College and a group of 20 of them meet up in Hexham every autumn for a reunion.

Class of 1970 graduate Joan McInnes (née Gibson) chose to remain in her hometown of Newcastle when she embarked on her teaching career and spent many years as a Home Economics teacher. When asked what the highlight of her career was, Joan said:

 “Working in the Newbiggin Hall Estate, it was so difficult to get children’s attention. But you were always on a high if you got them involved and interested.”

Ann Christine Brown (née Brady) was joined on campus by her daughter Catherine to collect her Honorary B.Ed. from Newcastle University after having received her Certificate in Education from Northumberland College in 1967. Ann retired as a secondary school Science teacher 9 years ago, having taught across Yorkshire, Buckinghamshire and Kent, but often still helps to tutor children in her local village today.

Throughout her career, Ann has seen a monumental shift in the perception of science and the way it is taught to children. She said:

“It had to change. It went from just copying from books and listening to the teachers droning on to the teachers producing experiments and the children having to investigate for themselves, in just 10 short years. And that led to so many children wanting to study science further because of learning in that atmosphere.”

Ann’s daughter, Catherine, reflected on seeing her mum with her fellow honorary graduates on campus and catching up with long-lost friends:

“It was really evident, being in that hall together, the warmth and humour present in this community. All the men and women here were founders in a new way of teaching and brought a whole new way of looking at things to children and young people. You can feel that energy here, all these characters. It’s very warm and it feels like a family.”

‘There is a mountain of accumulated knowledge and wisdom represented here’

Alumni and guests in attendance at the ceremony were also addressed by Student Orator Gordon Wealleans, who was the instigator for the whole proceedings, having reached out to the university a year ago. For his hard work and dedication in making this event happen, Gordon received an especially loud applause and cheer when collecting his degree on stage!

After gaining his teaching certificate from Northumberland College in 1968, Gordon went on to enjoy a long and successful career in primary education in Carlisle and held a number of headships in junior schools before retiring 20 years ago.

He was joined on campus by his wife of 54 years, Barbara, who Gordon met while training to be a teacher and who also received an honorary degree from Newcastle University.

In his address, Gordon remarked on the friendships and marriages that had lasted six decades because of meetings that had taken place at the five colleges, and the estimated 3.6 million teaching hours that were represented in the room. Of the teaching profession, he said:

“In all stages, it is enlightening and encouraging young people – through learning – to be the best that they can be, the best people they can be. We all remember teachers or tutors whose influence went way beyond the content of their lessons or lectures. There are people whose influences upon us can last a lifetime.”

About Education training at Newcastle University

Newcastle University has a proud history of learning and innovation and has been offering teacher training for more than 130 years. The first 20 ‘pupil teachers’ enrolled at Newcastle’s College of Science in 1890, and Newcastle’s training centre was among the first six established in England. Its principal, Mark Wright, became the country’s first holder of an established Chair in Education in 1895.

Today, the School of Education offers a wide variety of undergraduate and postgraduate courses and is ranked in the Top 100 Education training providers in the world by the QS World University Rankings (2022).