Schools

‘Children are our future and it’s for them that Tim dedicated his life’ 

Hundreds gather to remember the late Sir Tim Brighouse

Hundreds gather to remember the late Sir Tim Brighouse

Sir Tim Brighouse’s dedication to helping others thrive in education changed thousands of lives, often in a personal way that stayed with them forever.

More than 400 hundred friends and family gathered on Saturday at Logan Hall, UCL Institute of Education in London, to hear moving and frequently funny stories including from former ministers, school leaders and colleagues across his illustrious career.

Brighouse died in December aged 83 after a short illness. He served as chief education officer in Oxfordshire and Birmingham, then led the highly regarded London Challenge to transform the capital’s schools.

One person on whom he left a “profound and lasting effect” was Sadiah Qureshi, who shadowed him at Birmingham council in his role as chief education officer in 1996.

Sadiah Qureshi

After expressing her desire to study at the University of Cambridge, but not knowing where to start, Brighouse recommended a college and sent a reference. She was accepted and was the first student from her sixth form to attend “Oxbridge”.

“I’m absolutely confident that I’m the first Pakistani woman to be a professor of history in the UK,” Qureshi said. “I really consider meeting him one of the greatest blessings of my life – and he did that for me and for so many others.”

‘Unannounced, unexpected, unpretentious’

Brighouse was remembered for regularly visiting schools, every day if he could, often turning up “unannounced, unexpected and unpretentious”, said Ava Sturridge-Packer, a former Birmingham headteacher.

“When Tim looked into your eyes, as he always did, he made you feel special, a special friend that he knew well. He often made references about your school as if he was part of the school community.”

He wrote thousands of handwritten letters of thanks and support – in the “unique Brighouse script”, which some might have struggled to read – but Sturridge-Packer said these were like a “virtual hug”.

Bob Moon, a headteacher in Oxfordshire during Brighouse’s tenure, remarked that he was “just so accessible. To be able to ring up the chief education officer was phenomenal.”

IN PICTURES: Schools community pays tribute to Sir Tim

Tributes to Tim's life in Birmingham

He said Tim’s ideas were not “ideas because he saw something wrong with the system. He really wanted the ideas to improve the system, and that’s a very significant difference.”

His ideas did not stop in his later years, with nine sixth-form sustainability conferences taking place this summer – a project he came up with on the Saturday before he went into hospital.

Former prime minister pays tribute

Sir Tony Blair, who launched the London Challenge, told the audience in a video how Brighouse’s “commitment to education and his credibility and the respect he had among teachers helped to convince” councils and schools to believe in the goals of the initiative between 2003 and 2007.

“I think there’ll be so many hundreds of thousands, and actually in time millions, of young people who may not have heard of Tim… but will be beneficiaries of [his] work because they will have had a much higher quality of education that without Tim they wouldn’t have had.”

While remembering his success, charisma and compassion, several tributes also recollected his sense of humour and quirks.

Mick Waters

Mick Waters, who worked alongside Brighouse in Birmingham, said he was the “most predictably unpredictable person I’ve ever met” after he quite literally got to walk in his shoes.

Following a council meeting, Brighouse looked “a bit concerned” and realised he didn’t have shoes for a black-tie event that evening.

“So, he stood there for a minute and looked at my feet. He said, ‘what size are you then?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m a nine’. And there we sat on the stairs outside the council offices swapping shoes.

“Now I don’t know how he managed with my size nine black shoes, but I tell you his great big brown shoes made me feel like a clown.

“When I got to leave [a conference the next day], I was so self-conscious that I felt duty bound to explain the situation and I offered everybody in the audience a chance to feel what it was like to walk in Tim Brighouse’s shoes.”

‘He set down a relationship we could build on’

Baroness Morris

Former education secretary Baroness Morris remembered how he visited a Birmingham school for the first time unannounced and, when he saw the lunchtime duty was short staffed, “he rolled his sleeves up, he got behind the table and began to sell the biscuits”.

“What we all knew is that he set down a relationship that would be built on – and that’s why education in that school, and schools through the city, would change.”

Sir Jon Coles, United Learning academy trust chief executive who worked alongside Brighouse on the London Challenge, said he was “was constantly advising, encouraging, supporting, challenging and contributing to wider areas of the education system”.

“Tim does live on in all of us who are still trying to keep his work going.”

Sir Jon Coles
Sir Jon Coles

His wife Liz, leader of Oxfordshire council’s Labour group, fondly recalled how he never had the “ringer” turned on on his phone and, when he left Oxfordshire, “he couldn’t get around to tidying his desk, so he decided he would just buy it”.

The same desk remains in their study.

She ended the memorial with a poignant and moving tribute, which was met with a standing ovation.

“Tim will never die. As long as people go into schools, people go into classrooms, people give their lives to make children’s dreams come true, no matter their background, no matter the ability of their parents to be able to make those lives better.

“Children are our future and it’s for them that Tim gave his life.”

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