THE Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell praised Belfairs High School, now known as Belfairs Academy, in his maiden speech after being inducted as a “spiritual peer” in the upper house of parliament.

He joked with colleagues that he suffered from “imposter syndrome”, adding: “I have suffered from that for a long time.

“How could a boy from Southend who was not brought up going to church and who, aged 11, fell the wrong side of the line and went to a secondary modern school end up sitting on these red Benches and speaking in this House?”

During his speech, Mr Cottrell paid tribute to his old school and underlined the importance of education in the life of the nation.

Mr Cottrell, who grew up in Leigh, said: “I found myself in an environment where teachers believed in me and saw my potential. Under the affirming gaze of their encouragement, I flourished and became, I think, only the second or third person from that school to get a degree.

“Human beings need affirmation to live well. That attitude of believing and encouraging needs to encompass family, school, community and church. I was blessed to receive that affirmation in my family and eventually through that school. Without it, I do not know where I would be.”

The 55-year-old father-ofthree, who became Bishop of Chelmsford in 2010, is one of just 26 “Lords Spiritual” in the House of Lords.

Mr Cottrell completed three O-levels at Belfairs High School for Boys, then a secondary modern school, before attending the sixth form of Belfairs High School for Girls, next door. The bishop, who went on to study at the Polytechnic of Central London and St Stephen’s House, Oxford, before being ordained into the church in 1985, said the girls’ school offered more encouragement than the boys’ school.

He said: “The school I went to, though good and well run in its own way, had pretty basic expectations.

“You left at 15 and got a job.

Bishop of Chelmsford was all the job centre had when I went – and you took CSEs, not O-levels.

“Clever children went somewhere else. The choice had already been made.

“I somehowmanaged to get three O-levels. As a consequence, I was considered at my school to be something of an intellectual. However, three O-levels were not enough to swap to the grammar school, which had a proper sixth form.

“Believing I was capable of more, but not being in an environment where more was on offer, I enrolled in the sixth form of the secondary modern girls school next door.”