An Oxford-educated teacher who taught in South Africa during apartheid has retired.

Martin Spafford, 60, has said goodbye to pupils after 24 years at George Mitchell School in Leyton.

However, the former history teacher has no plans to take it easy and has already lined up a number of community education projects to keep him busy.

Mr Spafford, who lives in Leyton, admitted it would be difficult to leave full-time teaching.

He said: "George Mitchell is a local school. It is a community that I feel I belong to. Yes I will miss it on a day-today basis.

"I will miss the buzz of the classroom, I will miss interacting with the young people and my teaching friends. But I plan to stay in education.

"Leyton is such an exciting and invigorating place to work. The school has changed in its teaching methods and personnel but the people are same. Although I was not brought up around here, it is where I feel most at home and where I feel I belong."

Before taking his place at Worcester College, Oxford, Mr Spafford, who was brought up in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, spent a year teaching English in Swaziland and South Africa during the Apartheid era.

He said: "Africa was a very formative time for me. I was just 18 and had obviously never experienced anything like it before.

"Many of the Zulu's I taught in Swaziland had fled South Africa to get away from apartheid.

"My friends there snuck me into South Africa and I taught in the townships. That experiences has stayed with me and I think had a huge impact on the choices I made afterwards.

"I think if I had gone straight from Yorkshire to Oxford things would have been very different."

Martin taught in Eygpt and at a school in Paddington before landing a job at George Mitchell in 1990.

On his time at the school, he added: "I have learnt a lot as a teacher but the one piece advice I would pass on to a younger teacher is the importance of listening to young people.

"Your job is to hand over power to them. I completely reject the idea that a teachers job is to fill an empty vessel with information.

"You must prepare them for life. It is like passing the baton. At first when they are not so strong you run with them, you help them.

"But then when they are ready, when you have taught them the skills, you pass that baton and let them run alone."

George Mitchell headteacher, Saeed Hussain, described Mr Spafford as "incredibly dedicated".

He said: "He has worked passionately to improve life chances for the students in his care and tirelessly to show them opportunities for the future that they might not have considered themselves. He is never off and never rests.

"Martin is very popular amongst students and staff and whilst he has recently retired, I know that he will continue to be very much part of George Mitchell School."

The school is inviting former pupils to attend a planning retirement party for Martin 0n October 10.