Four generations of one family educating Derbyshire

Posted by: Belinda Hargreaves

Tue 5th March 2024

A Derbyshire tutor is celebrating being the fourth generation of her family who have educated youngsters across the county.
While Claire Selby now supports youngsters needing extra tutoring at her centre in Alfreton, she can trace her teaching roots back to 1880s Ilkeston when her great-grandmother became a pupil-teacher at Gladstone Street School for Girls.
Here Claire shares her family’s story which showcases the different experiences of education through the generations in the county:

From pupil-teachers to the married teachers ban, professional qualifications to private tutoring, sewing classes for the blind to subsidised cultural trips to London – as well as a tragic classroom accident – one family from Derbyshire can chart the changing face of education through four generations from the late 1800s right up to the present day.
While former Derby deputy head teacher Claire Selby celebrates four years of tutoring youngsters in the county, she’s been tracing her ‘teaching’ pedigree right back across four generations to her great-grandmother in 1880s Ilkeston.
Claire’s town centre, hi-tech ‘classroom’ in Alfreton is a far cry from the Victorian one her great-grandmother Elizabeth Fox (nee Thornhill) would have known almost 150 years ago when she started out teaching at the Gladstone Street School for Girls in Ilkeston.
Claire said: “The school buildings are long gone these days and all that is left is the name of the street in Ilkeston.
“In Elizabeth’s day, most teachers learned on the job. To join the profession, my great-grandmother would have to have shown some academic promise to be offered a pupil-teacher role.
“This was an apprenticeship of sorts with the headteacher often providing pupil-teachers with extra guidance and lessons after school. Teachers like her didn’t go to college to be trained or gain qualifications like we do these days.”
Tragically it was Elizabeth Fox’s teaching job that led to her untimely death. Claire explained: “I understand that she spilt boiling milk on herself, milk that she’d been heating for her colleagues at school over an open fire.
“That burn injury eventually resulted in sepsis and caused her death in 1930 when she was around 54 years of age.”
Before this tragic accident, Elizabeth’s daughter Laleah Fox – Claire’s grandmother – had joined the teaching profession herself. Following in her mum’s footsteps, Laleah had become a pupil-teacher at Langley Mill Infant School and had worked her way up from there.
According to the rules for women teachers at the time, they were required to stop working when they married. And that applied to Laleah when, in 1935, she married Kenneth Selby. But all this was reversed once the Second World War broke out.
Claire said: “As men were sent o to fight women had to fill their places at work. So my grandmother was able to return to teaching in the early 1940s which she continued to do until her retirement.”
Because she’d started as a pupil-teacher, Laleah was offered the chance much later in her career to take a professional exam to confirm her teaching credentials. But she turned the offer down. Claire believes she was concerned about the results.
He said: “I’m told she was anxious that if she didn’t get her certificate, it would undermine all her experience and many years as a respected teacher in the classroom already.”
It was Laleah’s son David (Claire’s father) who became the third generation of Derbyshire educators in the family. A qualified teacher himself, he discovered quite early in his career that his passion was for adult education rather than traditional classroom teaching.
It was a relatively new discipline when he joined Southeast Derbyshire as Area Principal for Adult Education in 1965. Offering over 100 courses, mainly through evening and weekend classes, the service provided more than 9,000 local people a year with access to a wide range of subjects, activities, skills and interests.
David, now retired and living in the south of England, said: “This was an exciting and innovative time to be working in adult education.
“Classes like flower arranging, pottery and painting ran alongside French and English lessons, history groups and art appreciation. I am particularly proud of the sewing, woodwork and beauty classes we set up for blind people, at their request.”
All the adult education students in south-east Derbyshire also got the chance to participate in subsidised trips that David and his team organised, regularly chartering trains to London for visits to the theatre and Parliament.
With Claire’s mum Lorna also a trained teacher Claire recalls: “Education was a hot topic of conversation at home in Long Eaton when I was a kid, with mum and dad eager to catch up at the end of the day.
“Although I didn’t start out planning to be a teacher myself, it wasn’t long before I was drawn into what was almost the family business.”
Claire, who lives in Derby, is very proud of the fact she is now the direct, fourth generation of Derbyshire educators in her family.
Having already spent 25 years working as a teacher and deputy head in a local Derby primary school she now relishes the front-line teaching she has been able to get back to in her Kip McGrath Tutoring Centre in Alfreton.
She offers children between the ages of six and 16 tailored support and help in either English or Maths to help them keep up at school.
Claire said: “My team and I are all qualified teachers but compared to a conventional classroom setting, we can work on a much more one-to-one basis with our learners.
“I love to watch my students progress and blossom in confidence as they gain a better understanding of their subject in a safe and friendly space.”

For further information about the Kip McGrath Centre, which is situated at 5 Chapel Walk in Alfreton, go to, or call 01773 688330.


Claire outside her tutoring business in Alfreton

Claire’s great-grandmother Elizabeth Fox (nee Thornhill) on her wedding day in 1898 after the ceremony at Holy Trinity, Ilkeston

Claire’s grandmother, Laleah Fox with one of her classes at Langley Mill Infant School

Local newspaper report of Claire’s father, David Selby as he announced his departure from his role as South-East Derbyshire’s Adult Education advisor in the 1960s

To read more history and heritage focused Spirit of Alfreton articles go to here

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