When in 1970 my friend Tony Knight, who has died aged 93, became headteacher of the Church of England middle school in Newport on the Isle of Wight, the school had not even been built. But once he got there he nursed it into being, constantly seeking ways to improve its systems and to create a happy and buzzing community on the island. He was also keen to bring into the staffroom people whose experience went beyond the usual routes into teaching.

Tony was born in Wantage in Oxfordshire (but then in Berkshire) to Norah (nee Carpenter) and her husband, Joseph, who both worked at King Alfred’s school in the town – Norah running the boarding house of which Joseph was housemaster. Naturally Tony attended the school, and after leaving aged 17 in 1944 he was accepted into the army and sent to Burma with the Royal Corps of Signals. On demob in 1949 he read English at Oxford, where he met a young nurse, Hilary Scott, in 1950, and two years later they married.
After a first job as a store management trainee with Anglo Iranian Oil, Tony turned to teaching English at schools in Boston, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Exeter. Then, in 1963, with their young family, he and Hilary left for Switzerland to become houseparents at the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in Trogen, set up in 1946 to provide a home for children from various nations who had found themselves in difficult circumstances, and to nurture ambassadors of peace for the future.

I worked there as a volunteer, and I saw how they threw themselves into their roles as teachers, substitute parents, internationalist community-makers and UK representatives. When it was their turn to lead the weekly assembly with a contribution from their native culture, Tony (self-effacing and donnish in appearance) entertained and startled the village as a pantomime dame. He also carried out his regular snow-shovelling duties with scientific precision.

He and Hilary left Switzerland after six years in 1969, and Tony spent the next year studying education at Oxford University. This led, in 1970, to his headteacher appointment on the Isle of Wight.

While working in Newport, Tony was a lay canon of Portsmouth Cathedral. Once he retired from the school in 1984 he taught English as a foreign language and, while Hilary continued to work, also cared for his mother-in-law, Evelyn Siarey. After a lifetime of paperwork he was happy to cultivate his garden, to swing a scythe in the local churchyard or pound the island’s clifftop walks in the company of a recalcitrant mongrel.

He is survived by Hilary, their children, Charles, Philippa, Katy and Michael, and 12 grandchildren.

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