Tributes paid to ‘education giant’ Sir Tim Brighouse

One of the country's most influential educators remembered as a 'towering beacon of light'

One of the country's most influential educators remembered as a 'towering beacon of light'

The sector has paid tribute to “education giant” Sir Tim Brighouse, remembered as “a towering beacon of light for schools” whose legacy will “last forever”.

The former schools commissioner for London, where he led the highly-regarded London Challenge, and chief education officer for Birmingham and Oxfordshire died yesterday after a short illness.

Harry Brighouse, speaking on behalf of Tim’s family, said: “He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather and a towering figure in the word of education.

“He never wavered in his belief that teachers and schools change children’s lives for the better.”

He leaves behind wife Liz, the leader of the Labour group on Oxfordshire council, four children and eight grandchildren.

‘A titan of the education service’

Knighted for his services to education in 2009, Brighouse was an instrumental figure in the London Challenge which is credited with transforming the capital’s schools.

Former education secretary Lord Blunkett called him a “titan of the education service”, and said “much of the outstanding achievement of turning around schools in the capital was down to his leadership”.

“I didn’t always agree with Tim, but his contribution to the British education system was outstanding, and he will be sorely missed. For the future improvement of schools across the country, we will need more Tim Brighouses in the years to come.”

Baroness Morris, another former education secretary, said she had “nothing but admiration for what Tim had achieved, not least in developing early education programmes and primary schooling, which we were able to build on in the drive to raise standards and opportunity following the Labour victory in 1997”.

“There are few people in recent times who have contributed so much to driving the standards agenda and enthusing the teaching profession with the commitment to bring about lasting change.”

‘An education giant’

Children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza said “we have lost an education giant”. While Dawn Heywood, chief executive of the Windsor Academy Trust, where Brighouse was a member, added he was a “shining light in education. Your legacy will last forever”.

Alongside his education reform achievements, many also paid tribute to Brighouse’s character.

Susan Brown, Oxford city council leader, tweeted: “Tim’s contributions to education in our country were immense but all those who knew him will miss him for his wit and kindness.”

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson added Brighouse was a “deeply impressive man, a paragon of kindness and an outstanding figure in Britain’s schools. Through his work, his thinking and vision, he transformed lives.”

In a Schools Week profile in 2014, former editor Laura McInerney wrote during his time as chief education office in Birmingham, results “constantly increased”.

But Brighouse “became renowned for kindnesses, sending more than 5,000 handwritten letters of congratulations to teachers, and even turning up with champagne to one school after a tough Ofsted inspection.

When asked what prompted this, he said: “Blummin’ hell…that’s about being human!

“It isn’t that I won’t confront difficult situations where people have made a balls-up of something, because I have, and I do, and I would. But I do think they deserve dignity.

“And if somebody has not made a success of a particular school, they may have made a success of it earlier on – they may have been a very good head in another place or they may have been a fantastic deputy or they may be fantastic with difficult kids.”

‘A beacon of optimism’

The profile started with the line: “The longer you talk about a problem in education, the more likely you tend towards the solution ‘Clone Tim Brighouse’.”

McInerney tweeted yesterday: “Tim was the best of us. Brilliant, in the truest sense of the world. A profound loss, in this moment, but only because his whole life has been education’s gain.”

Professor Colin Diamond, who later worked for Birmingham council, said that “rarely does a week go by in Birmingham without Tim coming up in the conversation 20 years after he left for the London Challenge.

“The best director of education by a country mile whose legacy endures. Feel so lucky to have met him and worked together.”

Meanwhile Sir Jon Coles, chief executive of the United Learning academy trust and who played a key role in the London Challenge alongside Brighouse, said “we have truly lost an exceptional person”.

He quoted the playwright George Bernard Shaw: “’Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.’”

‘A towering beacon of light’

Brighouse, who was 83, was still active in education reform, publishing a 640-page book last year alongside Mick Waters titled ‘About our schools’ which included interviews with scores of education leaders.

In a joint opinion piece with Waters in Schools Week last year, he argued for a baccalaureate, an annually published balanced score-card of school performance and the merging of Ofsted and Ofqual.

Sir David Carter, the former national schools commissioner, described Brighouse as a “towering beacon of light for schools and children. To have influenced so many people over so many years is a wonderful legacy. A man who gave so much and I was lucky to learn from him.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added Brighouse “was such an advocate for teachers and leaders, for trusting in professionalism, for celebrating the quietly enduring impact great educators have on lives they will rarely then see”.

“He was a beacon of optimism who will be much missed.”

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  1. Dame Joan McVittie

    Tim led London Challenge to great things in terms of pupils’ attainment. Most of all he developed a spirit of collegiality across London schools which remains to this day. He will be greatly missed both as a friend and a great leader in education.

    • Vanessa Wiseman

      Tim was an inspirational educator and leader,who always put the achievements of young people,teachers and support staff at the heart of the many school improvement initiatives he developed and led.A little word of praise or recognition from Tim meant so much to us all.He brought so many insights and such humanity into all he did and was unique.He will be sorely missed but hopefully his legacy will continue.
      Vanessa Wiseman former Headtecher and London Challenge Adviser

  2. Judith Bennett OBE

    I knew Tim for many years, and worked with him at The Teaching Awards in the Noughties. He was brilliant in every way and a true inspiration to everyone in education. I mourn his loss.

  3. Sarah Burgess

    Tim was such an inspiration. He was sharp, thoughtful, funny, kind and a hugely positive influence globally but also personally (and everything in between). I knew him from his time as Director of Education in Birmingham and thanks to him I had the good fortune to spend most of my career working for the UFA – one of his creations – which began in Birmingham and then grew to work across the UK. A lovely, brilliant man.

  4. I first met Tim when I was a young teacher and he was Director of Education in Oxfordshire. I met him again two years later and he instantly remembered my name and school (Bicester). In the 90s he helped me publish a book ‘Put the Record Straight’, a defence of education against the right wing media and political attacks being made at the time. His influence attracted a number of big names who contributed chapters to the book.
    I was privileged to publish another book by Tim ‘What Makes a Good School?’ This book revealed his strong grasp of all matters relating to leadership. He had become the CEO of Birmingham by then. I worked with over 200 Birmingham schools during this period and everyone I met in that city spoke of his extraordinary humanity.
    He told me that one of his routines, often late at night, was to write to and thank, students and teachers, everyone he had me that day.
    When I became a Head Tim agreed to
    come to present the awards at the ceremony held in Nicember. Two moments capture the essence of Tim
    Brighouse. Firstly the ceremony lasted twice as long as normal – Tim spoke to every single award winner – making them all feel ten feet tall. Secondly, I remember as if it was yesterday the Year 7 boy who came on stage to receive the history award. An hour later the same boy came up for the PE award.
    ‘Not just good at history’ said Tim.

    Tim has had the biggest influence on my career. There will not be another to match him in my lifetime. My thoughts are with Liz and his family at this sad time. RIP Tim and thank you for all you taught me.

  5. Peter Smith

    Tim Brighouse was always such a great communicator. People actually looked forward to hearing him speak. And what he said always mattered and always made a difference.

    Peter Smith, formerly PRO at the Council for Local Education Authorities.

  6. Nicki Wright

    I had the privilege of working as a Deputy and Head in Birmingham schools during the Tim Brighouse / Mick Waters era and I have and will always think of it as a “magical” time in my career.
    As a recipient of one of those hand written notes I remember feeling important and cared for.
    Tim had a way of talking to a a large audience and out of nowhere zoning in on you as though talking to you alone, with a “now look” and finger point! The uncanny thing was, you really did feel like he was just talking to you, and even more incredible is that when he spoke to you afterwards he knew who you were and what school you were from!
    He came and opened our school library and we gave him a Harry Potter tie, the next time he visited the school he was wearing the tie we gave him! That small gesture meant so much to the staff and the children – pure genius.
    What a man! The educational landscape will be poorer for losing him.
    I thank his family for sharing him with us all and send them condolences at this time