My friend Stella Skillen, who has died aged 62 of cancer, was a lifelong English teacher who dedicated most of her career to children with special needs.
Stella was born in Solihull to Maureen (nee Donnelly), a school lunch supervisor, and Denis Richards, a telecoms engineer, both devout Catholics. Brought up in the Warwickshire town of Coleshill, she was among the first pupils to attend Archbishop Grimshaw school, built to cater for children in the vast new estate of Chelmsley Wood, on the outskirts of Birmingham.
After training in primary teaching at Newman College (now Newman University), Birmingham, Stella returned to Archbishop Grimshaw school in 1979 to teach in the English department, where she flourished. She had a real enthusiasm for teaching, and as a former pupil of the school herself knew many of the families in the school community.
Soon she became head of learning support in the school, and developed a team who worked tirelessly to support students. I met her in 1992 when I joined the school as a PE teacher, and she was an inspirational colleague, loved by her pupils and hugely respected by her colleagues. Possessed of an encyclopaedic knowledge of pupils’ names, years after they left the school Stella could recall details about their families and even the tutor group to which they belonged.
In 2000 she became deputy head of the school; the same year, in recognition of her work she was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
She left the school in 2012 and became head of special educational needs at Cockshut Hill school in Birmingham.
After retiring in 2018 she continued as a foundation governor at St Anne’s RC primary school in Chelmsley Wood, and was the chair of governors at her old primary school, St Edward’s in Coleshill, where her grandson Jack-James is now a pupil.
In 1982 Stella married Brian Skillen. He survives her, along with their son, Sean, now a teacher, Jack-James, and her father.