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Celebrating Honorary Teaching Degrees at the University of London

On 22 February 2023, two former students of Nonington College of Physical Education were presented with honorary Bachelor of Education degrees from the University of London.

Madge Brown and Sheila Gordon with their honorary degrees
Isle of Wight residents, Madge Brown and Sheila Gordon, receive honorary Bachelor of Education degrees from the University of London.

Madge Brown and Sheila Gordon, who both live in the Isle of Wight, studied at Nonington College of Physical Education at a time when their courses were not acknowledged as the degree level studies that they are today. The were both presented with an Honorary Degree in Education by the University of London.

Between the 1930s and the 1980s, teachers were typically trained on two-year or three-year certificate courses at teacher training colleges, but this was later replaced with the requirement for all trainees to complete a graduate or postgraduate course.

The University of London is working to present those who hold teaching certificates from now non-existent London area teaching colleges, and where the University was the awarding body, with honorary Bachelor of Education degrees in recognition of their dedication to teaching and enriching the lives of young people. Of the 26 former teaching colleges in London, all but seven have merged into other institutions, with Nonington College of Physical Education one of these exceptions. 

In 1938, Madge Brown (nee Parsons), embarked on a three-year teaching course at Nonington College of Physical Education. During World War II, Nonington College was evacuated to first Avoncroft and then to Grafton Manor in Birmingham. During this time, Madge took a year out to work as a nurse and graduated from Nonnington College in 1942. 

Teaching during World War II was an eventful experience for Madge. In her early years of teaching, she recalls leading a hockey lesson when a V2 rocket flew overhead. On the blow of her whistle, the team dived for the floor and once the explosion had been heard, the team jumped back up and resumed their lesson.

Also receiving an honorary degree at the special ceremony was Sheila Gordon (nee Harden) who attended Nonington College for Physical Education from 1946 to 1949, just after the end of World War Two.

A team of University of London staff visited Madge’s residence in Ryde, Isle of Wight to which Sheila Harden and family and friends as well as past Nonington students had been invited to witness the awarding of Honorary Bachelor of Education degrees. The day began with introductions and flicking through old photo albums from the ladies' time at Nonington. Both Madge and Sheila were presented their honorary degrees by Professor Mary Stiasny, Pro-Vice Chancellor, International, Learning and Teaching at the University of London.

The initiative to present Nonington College students with honorary degrees has in part been spearheaded by Carolyn Shorthand, who also attended the College in the 1980s. 

Founded in 1938 by Gladys Wright, a gymnast and founder of the English Gymnastics Society, Nonington College of Physical Education was closed in 1986. Many of the women, and later men, who studied at Nonington College went on to teach PE to generations of young people and left a lasting legacy on physical education.

The special degree ceremony held for Madge and Sheila marks the first step in the University of London’s Honorary Teaching Degree celebrations, with an in-person graduation ceremony planned for later in the year.