TRIBUTES have been paid to a former York head teacher described as a "legend in the community" who has died of Coronavirus

Mark Barnett was head at one of York's biggest primary schools, Westfield in Acomb, for more than 17 years when he stepped down in 2008 aged 55 to accept a job working for City of York Council as a consultant head teacher.

He went on to become acting head at Danesgate, the pupils’ support centre, and was responsible for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 behaviour strategies and working on secondary behaviour strategies across the city.

Initial reports suggested that Mr Barnett, who was in his late 60s, had not died of Coronavirus, but it has since been confirmed by his family that Mr Barnett, was taken in to York Hospital less than a week ago with breathing difficulties and died of Covid 19 yesterday (April1).

Westfield's current head teacher, Lamara Taylor, said: "We are saddened to hear that our former head teacher, Mark Barnett, has passed away.

"Mark was well-loved in the Westfield community and will be remembered for the laughter, kindness and compassion he gave to all.

"Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."

Cllr Andrew Waller, who has been a school governor at Westfield for many years, knew Mark well.

He said: "He was an inspirational head teacher and a legend in the community.

"Everyone knew Mark and he had a huge amount of respect."

Singer and former teacher, Ian Donaghy, said: "Mark was all about the children and not himself. You see a lot of career teachers out there, but Mark wasn't one of them.

"The city has lost a big, big influence on children. His big thing was happy kids learn, it's not about jumping through hoops or league tables. We could do with a few more like Mark."

Mr Barnett touched the hearts of pupils and parents alike before winning the Teacher Of The Year title at The Community Pride Awards. He was praised by judges for his second-to-none commitment to his school.

Mr Barnett also earned the title of Yorkshire Teacher Of The Year and was congratulated in the House of Commons by then Schools Secretary, Ed Balls.

Outside teaching, he spent his spare time in Ghana where he helped to set up a school.

Upon his retirement Mr Barnett said: “I have enjoyed my time at Westfield, but it just seems the right time to go. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my retirement and, as I say, my wife wasn’t too keen on the idea of me being under her feet, so I am going to be a consultant head teacher for the local authority.

“It’s quite emotional leaving. We have several Christmas concerts at the school and they have been particularly good this year. I don’t mind saying I shed a tear.

"There have been children and parents coming up to me saying they have heard I am leaving and saying very kind things.”

Julianne Phillipson, who nominated him for a Community Pride Award, said: “He is fair, treats the children as individuals, encourages them to follow their dreams, has a good sense of humour and is fun”.

Maxine Squire, Assistant Director of Education and Skills at City of York Council, said: “We were very sorry and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mark Barnett, former headteacher of Westfield Primary and, on behalf of everyone at the City of York Council, would like to express our sincere condolences.

“Mark was a long standing and valued member of our Education community, who was well known for his commitment to the development of schools in York. His passion and pride in his role was known by all, and during his time at Westfield Primary he was awarded multiple accolades acknowledging his services.

“All who knew Mark are honoured to have worked alongside him, he was cherished by both pupils and teachers, and our thoughts are with Mark’s family, who we offer our deepest condolences at this very sad time.”