How a 'Polish peasant' raised in refugee camp inspired thousands of Sheffield schoolchildren

Bo Robshaw as a young girl at the refugee camp in which she grew up
Bo Robshaw as a young girl at the refugee camp in which she grew up
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A Sheffield teacher who defied her humble beginnings as a 'Polish peasant' to inspire generations of schoolchildren has retired after more than 40 years in the classroom.

Bo Robshaw, who taught English at Hinde House School in Shiregreen for almost her entire working life, says she couldn't imagine a more rewarding profession despite what she calls the 'negativity' surrounding teaching these days.

'Lady Bo' at her retirement party earlier this month

'Lady Bo' at her retirement party earlier this month

The 65-year-old, who ended her career as an assistant headteacher, said: "It's been a very special job and I don't think I realised quite how special until it was coming to an end.

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"There's no other profession where you get the same relationships - with the children and with other staff - sharing stories, having a laugh and crying together.

"It's not been an easy ride - I don't think education ever is - but I wouldn't have changed a thing.

"There are so many people saying negative things about teaching but I've had the best career imaginable."

Bo Robshaw shortly after beginning her career in teaching

Bo Robshaw shortly after beginning her career in teaching

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For Lady Bo, as she was affectionately nicknamed, her commitment to helping young people make the most of life whatever their background is rooted in her own life story and a determination to give others the opportunities she grasped as a young woman.

Born Boguslawa Wrzyszcz, she was raised in a refugee camp near Melton Mowbray where her parents met after fleeing Poland as infants during the Second World War.

She grew up in a series of Nissen huts but recalls a happy childhood, surrounded by friends and family.

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So strong was the Polish community there, it wasn't until the age of eight that she began learning English or even realised she was in a foreign country.

Her former colleagues presented her with this farewell gift

Her former colleagues presented her with this farewell gift

Her parents, who were forced to flee with their families when Russian soldiers came for them in the middle of the night. received no proper schooling amid the turbulence of the war.

But despite their lack of a formal education, they drummed into her the importance of making the most of a British education system which they believed was unparalleled.

"They told me to make the most of it because it was free and there was no other education system in the world which was as good. I think they missed being educated themselves," she said.

Bo didn't find school easy but knuckled down and passed her A-levels before accepting a place at the old City of Sheffield Training College and going on to achieve an honours degree in education at the University of Sheffield.

She initially had misgivings about coming to Sheffield, since relatives who had only seen it from the motorway described it as a 'horrible' industrial wasteland full of factories belching out thick smoke.

But she soon fell in love with an 'amazing' city which was very different from the bleak image they had painted, and she counts coming here as the best decision she ever made.

It was here she met her future husband Alan, at Genevieve nightclub, and raised their three daughters at their home near Endcliffe Park.

Having graduated, she taught for four years at what was then Woodfield High School in Doncaster, followed by a short spell at Tapton School in Sheffield, before joining Hinde House School, where she would spend the next 39 years.

She served under seven headteachers during her time there and helped steer the school from being placed in special measures to its most recent rating of good with outstanding features.

"We always had the ethos drummed into us there of asking ourselves 'if they were my children what would I want them to achieve and how would I make them believe in themselves?'" she said.

"I'm very proud to be part of an education system which cares for all groups of people. I think that's just brilliant.

"I still think of myself as a Polish peasant, and I've always appreciated how this country gave me the chance to do as well as I could.

"I believe in pushing children who deserve to be pushed, and that's probably because I was pushed as a child."

One of Bo's proudest achievements has been coordinating students' work experience placements each year, as head of careers.

She describes it as one of the most stressful but 'fulfilling' tasks, which has enabled countless children who could so easily have been 'written off' to discover a profession which is a perfect fit and to 'shine' in their pursuit of a career in that field.

She has also worked closely with young members of the Roma community, with whom her background and Polish mother tongue give her a natural affinity, helping them assimilate to a what is a very different way of life to the one their families have always known.

If one story sums up the impact teachers can have, it is that of a former student who visited her shortly before her last day at work to thank her for saving his life.

"He told me how I had inspired him to write poetry after his mother became seriously ill a few years ago," she explained, struggling to hold back the tears.

"He said being able to write his thoughts down had kept him going. He said I'd saved his life."

Bo was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2007, just four days before Christmas, but she made a full recovery following radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

She feels indebted to everyone at the school for their support during her treatment, and revealed the episode had given her a new 'kick' to continue making the most of life.

As a thank you to all those she has worked with over the years, and the other friends who have made her life in Sheffield such a happy one, she recently threw a huge retirement party for more than 200 people at Yellow Arch Studios.

"I've had such a wonderful life through education in Sheffield and it was great to be able to thank in person so many former colleagues and ex-students, along with my neighbours, friends and family, and even one of my college tutors who was such an inspiration when I was training to become a teacher," she said.

Having stepped down from teaching, Bo is looking forward to spending more time with three young grandchildren and exploring new destinations, with central and southern America topping her travel wish list.