Mary Fraser obituary

My aunt Mary Fraser, who has died aged 91, was head of the Inner London Education Authority’s visionary Unified Language Service (ULS) from the late 1960s until its abolition in 1990, helping to shape the teaching of English as a second language to immigrant and refugee children.

During her time at the ULS Mary championed the idea of teaching English to newly arrived pupils by integrating them into mainstream classrooms – a more inclusive approach that helped to change attitudes as well as policy within state education at a time when students were separated according to their different abilities. Under her direction, the ULS also fought to include the traditions, politics and histories of its new students’ home countries within an Anglocentric syllabus.

Mary was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, to Hilda (nee Walker) and her husband, Fred Fraser, a sales rep at a watch and clock making company. She went to Cheltenham Ladies college before going on to Westfield College (now Queen Mary University of London), from which she graduated in 1951 in French and Italian.

Her career teaching English as a foreign language began with the British Council in Sweden and Brazil, and in the late 60s she was selected to lead the ULS, which expanded under her leadership from its first office in Islington’s Centre for Urban Education Studies to have bases in 12 London boroughs. Throughout her career and time at the ULS she continued to teach abroad during school holidays in countries such as Syria, Nigeria, and again Brazil.

The abolition of the ILEA prompted Mary to take early retirement, but she continued teaching in other ways, including via a long association with a group of Eritrean child refugees whom she had met in south London not long after their arrival in the UK. Initially teaching them English, she also acted as a mentor throughout their school years until their first jobs, developing a form of extended family relationship and lifelong friendships.

In later years Mary researched and led history walks around London with the University of the Third Age and its Shape of London architectural group. She also pursued her longstanding love of chamber music, often attending as many as three concerts a week.

Mary was a generous, kind and fearless spirit who showed exemplary dedication to the communities that she was part of. She remained sharp and active to the end of her life.

She is survived by her sister Jean, me, and a cousin, Anthony.

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