Ann Maguire: Honouring her memory by moving on

PIC: Ross Parry
PIC: Ross Parry
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Peter McQuillen Strong says everyone remembers where they were when the news broke.

A teacher had been stabbed to death in her classroom at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Halton Moor, Leeds; a 15-year-old pupil had been arrested.

The victim was Spanish teacher Ann Maguire – at 61 a veteran of the profession and one of the most popular members of staff. The incident was without precedent in the history of British schools.

Mr McQuillen Strong, the headteacher at Holy Family Catholic Primary School in Armley – part of a close network of catholic schools in the city – was in his office when he heard what had happened.

He said: “I can remember the pupil I was talking about when somebody knocked on my door and said: ‘Can I talk to you for a minute’...It’s one of those moments, it’s almost life-changing.

“Every teacher and every pupil was touched by the tragic events. I’ve got children who are now in year one, who are able to re-tell the story of what happened. They were in reception last year and yet it’s still in their heart, it’s very poignant. As teachers you felt the loss – as catholic teachers you felt the loss.”

Mr McQuillen Strong’s comments are an illustration of the fact that the emotional impact of Mrs Maguire’s death reverberated far beyond the walls of Corpus Christi.

It was exactly a year ago today, shortly after morning break at 11.30am, that she was stabbed seven times without warning by Will Cornick.

He had been in a neighbouring room when he took a knife from his bag, winked at a fellow pupil and calmly walked into Mrs Maguire’s room to carry out the attack.

Francesca Hunt was in year nine at the time. She had not been taught by Mrs Maguire, but had been on a skiing trip with the teacher.

Now 15, Francesca said: “It was a big blow and everyone was very upset at the time, but everyone pulled together and helped one another and got on with things. Things have moved on and have got back to normal. Everyone still remembers, but for everyone to move on and get on with their education is what she would have wanted.”

Along with staff, parents of pupils who were in school that day had the job of helping their children come to terms with what had happened.

Gary Rushton was waiting to pick up his son, Jamie, when he heard about the incident.

“The cleaner came out of school saying ‘She’s dead, she’s dead’,” he said. “Then I found out it was Mrs Maguire. I couldn’t believe it. No-one could get into the school. The parents were turning up and they wouldn’t let them in.”

Mr Rushton said his son was shaken up and did not want to return to school. He added: “I thought it was best he did, but it definitely took some getting over – it’s not the sort of thing you expect or can prepare for, but the way the school handled it was okay. I think they just tried to get things back to normal.”

Cornick was 16 by the time he was locked up in November last year for a minimum of 20 years after showing what the judge, Mr Justice Coulson, described as a “chilling lack of remorse”.

In an effort to continue her legacy, Mrs Maguire’s family set up a fund following her death to support projects and individuals involved in the arts .

Her widower, Don, and daughter, Kerry, watched as more than 2,000 children took part in a fun run on Friday.

Mr McQuillen Strong, who helped organise the event, said: “The dignity shown by the community was amazing.

“Now it’s a case of saying, it happened, let’s move on and make some sort of legacy out of the tragedy.”