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Remembering Helen Casey

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19 June 2020

A Tribute

by Anne McKeown, Jenny Roden, Sally Bird (NATECLA Management Council, past and present)

“Helen was a real hero of mine. Someone who fought for everything she believed in and always got so much done.”

This was the response from a friend on hearing of Helen’s death in April this year. It echoes so much of our thoughts and memories of Helen, who had a significant impact on ESOL policy and made many contributions to NATECLA.

Helen was an active member of NATECLA throughout her career.  As an ESOL teacher and teacher trainer in London, she was involved in events for the local NATECLA branch during the 1990s. She then joined NATECLA Management Council and contributed significantly to discussions and decisions about NATECLA’s position on all matters relating to ESOL. 

Helen had an influential role in developing NATECLA’s publications, as Jenny Roden, former editor of NATECLA News reminds us:

"NATECLA owes a debt of gratitude to Helen for taking the helm of the organisation’s newsletter, in the late 1990s. Helen was responsible for updating and rebranding NATECLA News, which had, up until then, been produced in black and white. The new look newsletter became a perfect marketing tool for the organisation, with its attractive and recognisable format and excellent content on ESOL issues."

Helen was particularly passionate about ensuring high quality training and opportunities for ESOL teachers, and campaigned vigorously on developing teaching qualifications which supported teachers to further their own professional development. She chaired NATECLA’s Teacher Training Working Party during the 90s and 00s, leading and facilitating many lively discussions. 

Helen had a very keen sense for the direction of policy on ESOL, which combined with her business acumen to provide Management Council with wise advice and guidance on enabling NATECLA to survive through difficult times and to grow and flourish. She was a tenacious fighter for ESOL and made sure that ESOL was a part of the Skills for Life Strategy in the 2000s.  She argued to protect ESOL teaching qualifications when that same strategy might have clumsily declared high quality qualifications like the Cambridge DELTA and the Trinity Diploma invalid.  She made sure NATECLA’s voice was listened to in government circles and that NATECLA was involved in national training on the ESOL Core Curriculum.  In her leadership roles at the NRDC* from 2003, she ensured a consistent focus on research and development work in ESOL, alongside literacy and numeracy.  

She was always welcoming of new members and greatly encouraging of new ideas and energy in NATECLA. Sally Bird, who took on the leadership of the Teacher Training Working Party from Helen, recalls:

"On a personal level I believe many of us have much to thank Helen for. She had amazing insight – she saw the potential in the people around her and encouraged them to take on roles and projects they would otherwise never have dreamed of.  I know it is true for me – she encouraged me into ESOL teacher training, she pushed me into the NATECLA Teacher Training Working Party, she pulled me into the Talent London project.  She made my career into something quite special. I know I am not the only one."

Helen had a huge influence on ESOL nationally and remained a good friend and supporter to NATECLA.  We shall miss her greatly.


Anne McKeown, Jenny Roden, Sally Bird (NATECLA Management Council, past and present)
*National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy, 2002 - 2015

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