Madeline Held obituary

It is with great sadness that we announce the death, on March 3rd 2020, of Madeline Held, former Director of LLU / LLU+, the organisation that led to the birth of our own Learning Unlimited.

Madeline was a visionary and courageous leader, taking the Language and Literacy Unit (LLU) from the internal teacher development section of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) to an income generating, nationwide organisation.

Madeline started her professional life as a British Council Lector at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, where she worked from 1967 to 71. When she moved back to the UK, she taught English as a foreign language and then as a second language to refugees within the Further Education sector at the Downham and Lewisham branches of South East London College. From there, she was head-hunted by the ILEA’s teacher development unit, the Language and Literacy Unit (LLU), to head up their ESOL in FE section. This was a time of great change in London’s education landscape, and soon after she joined the LLU, just before the abolition of the ILEA, Madeline was appointed Director. ILEA central units were all allocated to the newly formed Borough Education Authorities, and the LLU went to Southwark, based at Southwark College.

Overnight, the LLU was suddenly expected to generate its own funding, in a culture where teachers had never before had to think about income generation. Madeline tackled this, as she tackled all challenges, head-on and with complete optimism. The first contract was for £1,000 with the County of Somerset. By the time Madeline retired, 20 years later, the Unit, by this time named LLU+, was taking on contracts of more than £1 million at a time. With her inclusive approach, Madeline increased the original staff from 10 in 1990 to more than 40, plus an army of part-time and freelance teacher-trainers, researchers and volunteers at the time of her retirement. When ILEA was disbanded, LLU was housed in a portacabin in Southwark College’s car park. When she retired, LLU+ had its own dedicated four storey professional development centre, based at London South Bank University. The areas of work undertaken by LLU+ over these 20 years grew to include offender learning, family learning, learning in the workplace, and integrating English language, literacy and numeracy into all learning. Whereas, under ILEA, the LLU had run short courses, LLU+ embraced the teaching of accredited teacher development courses, including developing an MA in the teaching of English language, literacy and numeracy to adults, and supporting dyslexic learners. Madeline also supported staff to produce a wide range of publications, including national curricula, many of which are still available from

This growth was not linear, and there were many stumbling blocks along the way. The organisation was threatened with disbandment three times in those 20 years, and staff occasionally worked with redundancy notices over their heads. Madeline was brave, but not fearless. She had many sleepless nights, worrying over the fate of the organisation she valued so highly. But she was forever a natural optimist and battled on; the strength of her leadership empowered her workforce to fight right alongside her.

Madeline’s style of management was to allow staff to follow their own interests, and to support each of them in their very different approaches and talents. This was no easy task, as sometimes these different styles and methods of the staff made clashes inevitable. However, Madeline managed to unite all staff with her optimism and absolute commitment to the core principle of enabling everyone, no matter what their background or financial means, to improve their educational opportunities.

As part of her role as Director of LLU+, Madeline was invited to participate in and to chair a number of London-wide and national bodies. In 2006 Madeline received an MBE for her services to adult education.

On retirement in 2008, Madeline did not stop. She worked on the archiving of LLU+ historical documents, now housed at London South Bank University. She also successfully completed a Diploma in Corporate and Executive Coaching, and Chaired both Health Literacy UK and the Nuclear Education Trust.

Madeline’s professional approach enabled her to integrate her academic learning, her social beliefs and her creative, indefatigable drive. She will be sorely missed by her daughter, Natasha, and by her friends and former colleagues, in London, England and all over the world.

Helen Sunderland, Shan Rees and Natasha Held