Ex-pupils who studied at the former Purley High School for Boys have paid heartfelt tributes after the death of Derek Akers, who was headmaster at the school for 20 years. Mr Akers passed away in his sleep on Tuesday (August 29) at the age of 91, having lost his wife, Pat Akers, just weeks before his death. He was the head of the school, off Placehouse Lane, from 1968 until it closed in 1988, overseeing three name changes as the high school, which was originally called Purley County Grammar School, became Purley Grammar School for Boys in 1969 and then Purley High School for Boys in 1973.
Nick Peaty, who was one of Mr Akers’ pupils between 1966 and 1973, described him as a “firm but fair” teacher who “taught students life lessons as well as leading them in the classroom”. “Derek was a man who took no prisoners,” Mr Peaty said. “He was known for using the cane – and I got caned by him myself once – but he would only do that if there was really a need for it. “I know that this drew criticism, but he did a good job in what was quite a difficult time to be involved with education – I think most of us came out of that school thinking that he was hard but fair and probably quite a softie underneath it all. “He was keen to see us all develop not just academically, but as people as well. “These days, education is all about numbers and quotas, but back in those days Derek wanted people to come out of the school able to be fulfilled in what they wanted to do in life.”
Under Mr Akers, who had taught at Dulwich College until 1967, the school had a reputation for strict rules and strong discipline. The school’s corporal punishment record came to prominence in the 1970s when statistics on the use of the cane were published by Croydon Council, with many letters written to the Advertiser both against and in support of the punishment, which was eventually outlawed in 1986. It had 900 pupils at any one time and its motto was Fas et Patria, meaning Faith and Country, until it closed in 1988 after 74 years of teaching. Coulsdon College is now at the same site.
Mr Peaty told of how he became a keen reunion organiser after leaving the school, and said he had met with fellow pupils and Mr Akers regularly throughout his adult life. “Although I had known him at the school and respected him as a head teacher, we had met for lunch every month once I got into organising the reunions,” he explained. “More than 100 people have left me little notes of remembrance to Derek, with many thanking him not just for giving them an academic education but an education in life. “All these men are 40, 50 or 60 by now and many of us who studied under him are passing on the same ethos he taught us with onto our own children. “Even until very recently, Derek was always the master of his own destiny and was a very active and involved man.”
Mr Akers leaves behind two children – one daughter and one son – having lost his wife just weeks before his death.
Kevin Adamson, who studied at Purley High School for Boys between 1971 and 1974, described Mr Akers as “a proper headmaster and a proper bloke”. He said: “I always remember Mr Akers as the enemy of my school years. “My lasting memories of Sir involve him standing at the top of Happy Valley as we ran the cross country, encouraging us on to get to the top of the hill. “He was a proper headmaster, and, looking back, a proper bloke. I will respect him always.”
Dozens of other ex-pupils have paid tribute to Mr Akers on the Purley High School for Boys/Girls Facebook page, with one person describing him as “a truly great character”. Nick Peaty
Another wrote: “We have differing views of his methods but two things remain true – that we shall never see teachers like him again and that he really cared for the boys in his charge. “He knew every boy’s name and wanted to turn us all into young gentlemen.”
Another former pupil wrote: “He always seemed like someone who’d go on forever. “I have lots of memories of him, and of the school and I’m another one who owes him a lot. “He made one believe that anything was possible in life if you worked hard… and got your hair cut!”
A date for Mr Akers’ memorial service, which will be held at Dulwich College at some point this month, has not yet been set. Those who knew him are invited to share tribute messages on the Purley High School for Boys/Girls Facebook page.
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