TRIBUTES have been paid to a ‘pioneering and inspirational’ teacher following her death at the age of 80.

Joan Atkinson was the first headteacher at both Bowness Primary School in Little Lever and Eatock Primary School in Westhoughton.

A formidable yet warm character, she is still fondly remembered by her former pupils and colleagues for her devotion to teaching and young people.

Her son Julian said: "She was a large lady to look at, very imposing, and it had people on the back foot when they first saw her.

“But she was one of the most warm, welcoming people, who would open her arms up to anybody.

As well as being a mother to Mrs Atkinson and his sister Sara Trethewey, Mrs Atkinson was was also a grandmother-of-five and a great-grandmother.

Mr Atkinson, added: “She was inspirational. As a mother and a grandmother she was supportive and scary in equal measure. As a child you had to do as you were told — she always had a headmistress air about her.

“She was also very active in supporting women’s rights, couldn’t have passed away a more opportune moment in that respect.”

And Mrs Trethewey said her mother, who hailed from West Yorkshire, was ahead of her time in her approach to education.

She said: “I think she was a pioneer, I look at what mum was doing in the 80s and 90s in her schools and it was definitely pioneering.

“She was very, very forward thinking, extraordinarily forward thinking and very much a team player.

She would empower people to achieve things they didn’t think were possible.

She believed in what other people more than they believed in themselves and gave them the confidence and the belief they could achieve what they wanted to do.”

After retiring at the age of 59 Mrs Atkinson, who lost her husband, Bernard, in 1989, went out to Kashmir with the Voluntary Service Overseas to take over the headship of the Pearl Valley School, in Rawalakot for three years. She spent a further three years working for the education service there before opening a teacher training college in Islamabad. Later, she also spent a period of time working in India.

Ann Flannery – headteacher at Eatock Primary, where Mrs Atkinson taught between 1990 and 1996 said: "She has been back a number of time to school for the 25th anniversary party and back in 2016 when the school got its ‘outstanding’ judgement from Ofsted.

"She was very pleased with how the school had gone in terms of the community. When she first opened the school her aim was for it to be a hub of the community and, over time, the school has developed that."

She continued: "Her legacy lives on in this school , it’s very sad news. She was much loved and we still have members of staff here who were appointed by Joan when the school opened. She brought a lot to the school and she was very pleased when she visited.

"She was a lovely woman who will be sorely missed, but she lived a fantastic life and made a difference across the world."

And Victoria Unsworth, current headteacher at Bowness Primary School added: “It was a pleasure to meet Mrs Atkinson when celebrating Bowness’ 40th Anniversary back in September 2017. I hope I can do her proud and continue to influence the lives of Bowness children like she did for many

"On behalf of Bowness Primary School, we would like to send our condolences to all family and friends and we thank her for the years of service she provided here at Bowness."