Gina Owens Memorial Prize

The Gina Owens Memorial Prize for the sharpest, wittiest argument is presented annually at the Debating Matters National Final to the individual who shows the clearest grasp of his/her arguments and expresses them with passion, warmth and humour.

Gina graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of Sussex in 1973, and with a primary Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from the University of London’s Institute of Education in 1975. She taught across the primary-age range in inner city schools in London, Cardiff and Manchester, including working as a peripatetic teacher to the children of Travellers at Battersea City Farm, London. In 2000, she moved away from the classroom to work as a senior lecturer in primary mathematics at Bath Spa University College. In recent years, Gina contributed to the Times Educational Supplement as an agony aunt for newly qualified teachers. She had a special interest in education in Japan, and contributed a chapter to ‘Cultural Difference, Media Memories: Anglo-American Images of Japan’ (Cassell, 1997).  Gina also contributed to the work of the Academy of Ideas (IoI).

Gina always spoke her mind. She made sure that educational orthodoxies were never simply nodded through but were questioned, examined, debated. She wrote about how the bureaucratisation of education was detracting teachers from the ‘satisfying challenges of teaching’, and impeding the ‘dynamic and inspirational relation that children and teachers have to their material and to each other’. She was a warm but firm teacher, and knew that children sometimes needed cuddles and at other times a firm restraining hand. She felt that official restrictions on how teachers related to their children undermined pupil-teacher relationships. Gina had a very special warmth, and it was this that made her such an exceptional teacher and mentor to so many people. She brought imagination, creativity and integrity to her teaching, and to political debate. She could always see, and bring out, the best in the many children and students she taught – while also being able to recognise their flaws and shortcomings.

Gina Owens Prize 2017
Rowena Cantley from The Royal School, Armagh receiving the Gina Owens Memorial Prize 2017 with judges Bernie Whelan, Sandy Starr and Amanda Callaghan

She will be sorely missed by her family, friends, former comrades and colleagues. But she issued strict instructions that people should not mourn her passing, but rather should celebrate her life. She insisted that after her funeral ceremony all the attendees were to get drunk and strut their stuff to ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba. Gina made a lifelong impact on the people she fought political battles alongside. May of those who attended her funeral told of how much they had learned from her. Many of them spoke about her love of life, her intelligence, passion, determination, her wit. She helped to open many people’s minds to new ways of thinking about the world.

The award consists of a special certificate, a brief biography of Gina explaining why a prize has been named after her, and a selection of gifts.

Each year a number of Gina’s close friends and colleagues judge this award. For the 2017 National Final these were:

Amanda Callaghan has worked in communications and campaigning for 30 years, on issues from abortion to Sunday trading. She is a passionate advocate of free speech. Amanda is also a management coach and mentor for people starting careers in communications and lobbying. She is currently Director of Corporate Affairs at the British Retail Consortium where her latest achievement is winning cross-party support on the reform of business rates. She lives on the Isle of Dogs with her partner and their two cats.

Bríd Hehir is a retired nurse, midwife and health service manager. She worked predominantly in the NHS following four years as a volunteer nurse in Africa. She also worked as a fundraiser for a development aid charity. Since retiring she has engaged critically with the shifting terms of debate around female genital mutilation/cutting via her blog at Shifting Sands.

Elisabetta Gasparoni is a teacher of Italian language and literature. Since 2008, she has engaged in academic research on modern Italian literature. She is convenor of the Future Cities Project Readers’ Group – a book club with a difference providing an alternative to the conventional focus on fiction books.

Jane Sandeman  is Director of Finance & Resources at the The Cardinal Hume Centre and a regular judge for the Gina Owens Memorial Prize. She founded the Academy of Ideas Parents Forum in October 2006 which looks at issues concerning parents and young people as played out in the national and international media, and social policy. Jane is the Director of Finance and Resources for Cardinal Hume.

Sandy Starr is Communications Officer at the Progress Educational Trust - a registered charity that works in the fields of genetics, assisted conception and embryo/stem cell research - and Webmaster of the charity’s publication BioNews. He is also a member of the Ethics Advisory Board of the world’s largest autism research project, European Autism Interventions: A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications, and a member of the Editorial Board of the charity Autistica. He has consulted and spoken on technology and regulation for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Commission project RightsWatch. He has written for a wide range of publications, and spent several years working for the current affairs publication spiked and writing weekly film reviews for the Sun newspaper’s TV Mag. He has contributed chapters on regulation and law to six books.

Bernie Whelan is a reviewer for Extra! Extra! and was previously an advice worker at the London Irish Women’s Centre.


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