D. Campbell Cassidy: An appreciation

SISTER Pauline, the formidable headteacher at St Michael’s Academy, in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, was looking for a new Principal Teacher of English. Among the sheaf of CVs on her desk that day in 1973 was one from an applicant whose surname was Cassidy. Spotting his name, Sister Pauline thought he was just the kind of teacher they were after, and appointed him without even an interview.

Thus, as Campbell Cassidy’s friends would recall, was a Methodist granted a key job at a Catholic secondary school.

Daniel Campbell Cassidy, who has died at the age of 80, was a figure of considerable stature in the fields of English teaching and assessment, and did a great deal of the development for Higher Still, the major reconstruction of education and assessment that took place in the late 1990s.

Changes were designed to make the system more flexible and more inclusive but for many teachers they amounted to an upheaval, and they had to familiarise themselves with a new assessment structure, make new choices, read more documents, learn a new language.

Campbell had, in effect, created the language and he was masterly in helping teachers and markers to translate it.

Born (in 1940) and brought up in Kilwinning, he attended Irvine Royal Academy. He had sat the “Qually” at the Ironworks School in the Blacklands. After the exam, the headmaster customarily taught the boys gardening in the school garden before the clever ones went on to the Academy and the others to Kilwinning High, but he took time to introduce Campbell to Ancient Greek, so he would have a good start.

After graduating with Honours in English from Glasgow University, Campbell worked at Hutcheson’s Boys’ Grammar School in 1964, and two years later, at Scottish Television, he supervised the production of educational programmes for schools and colleges.

This led, in 1968, to the post of Director of Audio Visual Services at Strathclyde University, with the aim of establishing a Department for Research and Teaching in Public Communications.

In 1971, he returned to teaching, at Auchinleck Academy, rising to become Assistant Principal Teacher of English before his CV and his surname caught the eye of Sister Pauline at St Michael’s.

In 1977 he was appointed to the Central Committee on English, the forerunner of the English Panel, and became involved in assessment with the Scottish Examination Board (later, the SQA) at Higher and post-Higher English Studies.

In the mid-1980s, he was appointed Principal Assessor of Sixth Year Studies (later, Advanced Higher) – a position he held until his retirement.

The form of the examination had remained unchanged for 20 years. Before 1990, Campbell managed and oversaw the production of a Revised CSYS examination that was more liberal in its approaches to the production of materials for assessment and more disciplined in the marking process.

He assembled a team of setters and markers that was remarkably stable and loyal to him and to the examination. He was always precise and rigorously conscious of standards, and encouraged a stimulating, non-formulaic approach to the setting of papers.

Developing and managing an important examination at national level is not easy. It is a matter of many stages covering the whole year and demanding a substantial commitment of time and effort. Campbell achieved it while undertaking a full-teaching programme and running his department at St Michael’s.

It was his commitment, efficiency, and his way with people, that saw him appointed to the post of Development Officer for the production of materials and training programmes for Higher Still.

In 2000, Advanced Higher began a new phase. New markers were needed. Central marking – based largely at Stirling University – was introduced. The new arrangements suited Campbell well.

He was, essentially, extremely good with people. He embodied friendliness and sympathy, and, at the same time, his calm authority and his intellectual strength, his rigorous insistence on the standards he had laid down, commanded respect. He was intensely proud when Advanced Higher English was awarded a greater UCAS tariff than A-Level managed, south of the Border. He retired from his SQA post in 2011.

In his private life he was committed to North Ayrshire, especially to the Garnock Valley. He loved to talk about the history, the culture, the language, the people, the sports. He was also a devoted churchman and biblical scholar.

He had married, in 1963, Elizabeth Mary (Elma) McHarg, a Kilwinning girl, in Irvine Baptist Church. They had two sons, Campbell and John.

During an operation for hip-replacement in 2013, Campbell suffered a severe stroke which effectively disabled him. He died in Abbeyfield Care Home, Kilwinning, in January, some seven weeks after Elma had died in the same Care Home. They are survived by their sons and three grandchildren, Blythe, Nikolai, and Katerina.

Campbell will be remembered with admiration and respect by many – pupils, colleagues, and friends. He was, in popular terms, a gentleman – of great warmth and humanity, fairness, decency, and scholarship.

Richard Bennett