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Liz Murphy obituary

Kate Murphy
·2-min read

My mother, Liz Murphy, who has died aged 87, was at the forefront of campaigns to improve early years education. She pioneered nursery centres where trained staff worked with parents and external agencies. These were in many ways forerunners of the Blair government’s Sure Start programme.

Liz was born in Leeds, the daughter of Eric Snelling, an HM inspector of schools, and his wife, Madeleine (nee Roost). The family moved frequently; the most memorable years of her childhood were spent in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. She variously attended Weston grammar school for girls, Bath high school and Hexham grammar in Northumberland.

In 1951, Liz went to Homerton College, Cambridge, to start her teacher training, and it was in Cambridge that she met my father, Brian Murphy. They married in 1955 and by 1962 had four children. Having been home-based, she returned to work part-time in 1964 to run a playgroup in north London, where she also became involved with the fledgling Preschool Playgroups Association.

Her first full-time job, in 1967, was to establish a nursery class at a nearby infant school. Liz became a stalwart of the newly founded National Campaign for Nursery Education (NCNE). In 1968 she helped to organise a mass rally, protesting about the lack of nursery education, when hundreds of mothers with pre-school children descended on parliament to present a 97,000-signature petition. During her 50-year association with the NCNE she served as chair, vice-president, treasurer and press officer.

Liz was at the forefront of innovative ways to teach young children, as espoused in her book, Before School (1978). In 1982 she became coordinator of the first combined nursery in Haringey, the Stroud Green Pre-School Centre, with its integration of trained staff, external agencies (including social services) and parents, one of very few then in the UK. She was granted a year’s secondment in 1986 for her research degree with the Open University, investigating combined nursery centres across the country. In 1989 she became head of the purpose-built Rowland Hill Nursery, Tottenham, having been integral to its establishment.

Politics was always important to her: she served as a Labour councillor on Haringey council (1971-78) and was a founder member of the Haringey branch of the Socialist Educational Association.

Liz retired in 1997, but took on the post of training administrator at the London Centre for Psychotherapy (2002-08). She played a key role on the British Psychotherapy Foundation Arts Committee; she helped young children with reading at a local primary school and volunteered at Islington Museum.

Liz and Brian divorced in the 1987. In 1997, she married David Cohen. He survives her, as do her four children, Nick, Jane, Patrick and me, and eight grandchildren.