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Meet the University of Sunderland’s latest graduates - who retired years ago

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Published on 18 March 2024

Special BEd graduation ceremony
Special BEd graduation ceremony

Meet the latest University of Sunderland teaching graduates.

Only this cohort finished their studies in the middle of the last century.

Since then, they have taught a generation of young people in classrooms across the north-east, the UK - and the world.

Now retired, they have been reunited at a special ceremony during which the University of Sunderland awarded them honorary degrees.

One graduate, 91-year-old Sheila Coates, said: “I just feel humbled. I certainly didn’t expect this day would come – in my 91st year.

“I’m so delighted. My mother and father would have been so proud.”

Before Sunderland became a university in 1992, it was a polytechnic. And it became Sunderland Polytechnic in 1969, bringing together the Sunderland Technical College and the Sunderland School of Art, both founded in 1901, and Sunderland Teacher Training College, founded in 1908.

Seventy students enrolled in the Teaching College's first cohort, paying £10 for the privilege. It flourished, and in its final years had 820 students and 80 staff.

For almost all the existence of the College, teacher training led to a Certificate of Education, rather than an honours degree in Education. 

Most of its students were not allowed, or able, to take a Bachelor of Education, to recognise their learning and achievements. And it was only in the last years of the College that some subjects began to allow students to take BEd awards.

But the University wanted to recognise the achievements of their former students, and, on Monday, 128 of them attended the special graduation. 

Sheila, from Sunderland, attended Bede School and in 1950 went on to study for a teaching qualification in PE at Sunderland College of Education.

After graduating in 1952, she taught PE at West Park Technical School for 10 years. 

Shelia said: “It was the interaction with the children and the people that I just enjoyed so much. People have always interested me, perhaps because I belonged to a big family.

“I have always enjoyed my work.”

Sheila retired in 1982 – but not being one to put her feet up, she continued to teach mother and baby swimming classes for the next five years.

Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University, said: “The University is delighted to recognise and honour a cohort of graduates who gave outstanding service to education in the city, the region and far beyond too.

“While the world has changed in so many ways, those present represent the timeless pursuit and sharing of knowledge which remain at the heart of human progress.

“In joining us for this most special graduation ceremony, our newest graduates complete a journey that began many years ago and stands as testament to the enduring nature of the human spirit.”