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Norman Evans was born on 6 August 1923 and educated in Bournemouth and at Rydal School, Colwyn Bay. After serving on torpedo boats during the Second World War, he took a degree in history at Christ's College, Cambridge. This was followed by a diploma in education, a job as assistant housemaster at Bedford School and then a move into the state sector, as head of English at the Sir William Nottage School in Whitstable and then as the first headmaster of Senacre School in Maidstone. These were both secondary modern schools, for pupils whose results in the eleven-plus examination failed to secure them places in grammar schools. Yet instead of accepting a system that in effect branded people successes or failures at the age of 11, Professor Evans determined to break down barriers, improve the prospects of the less-privileged and forge a radical new curriculum at Senacre. It was the first of many times that his bold radicalism would put him at loggerheads with the educational establishment. In 1967, Professor Evans moved to Culham College of Education, before being promoted to principal of Bishop Lonsdale College of Education in Derby, where he again attracted controversy by lobbying for a merger of educational colleges (later to be incorporated into the University of Derby). In 1977, he returned to Cambridge as a research Fellow at the Institute of Education and then became a senior Fellow of the Policy Studies Institute. It was during this period that Professor Evans built links with the US Council for Advancement of Experiential Learning, which led to the creation of the Learning from Experience Trust, where he served as director from 1986 to 1994 and thereafter as a trustee. It was largely through their work that assessment of prior experiential learning became embedded in the entry procedures of many universities and colleges. John Elliott, emeritus professor of education at the University of East Anglia, said: "He had a very strong belief in people's capacity to learn, and didn't believe in separation by ability. All his subsequent work arose out of his experiences at Senacre School and made him one of the first to be committed to widening access to higher education. He never thought in little boxes and he ruffled a few feathers because he was a very forceful personality and an innovative leader who always did what he thought was the right thing."
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