Assistant head stepping down

Cate Tipper - stepping down as assistant headteacher at Kesteven and Sleaford High School. EMN-190715-095137001
Cate Tipper - stepping down as assistant headteacher at Kesteven and Sleaford High School. EMN-190715-095137001

Kesteven and Sleaford High School’s assistant headteacher steps down this week after 17 years at the school and 37 years in the profession.

Cate Tipper had special responsibility for pastoral care, safeguarding and exams but will be giving all that up, although students will still see her around, coming back part time to teach her first love – maths.

“That is why I came into teaching in the first place,” she says.

“It has been my life, even while raising a family, and so you don’t necessarily have time to develop many hobbies, so this is weaning me off slowly. I don’t think I’m old enough or ready to retire completely yet. It is just about having a bit more family time.”

Aged 59, she wants to visit her children, go walking with her husband and would love to learn to play bridge and tennis.

Mrs Tipper acknowledged the old saying about teaching being a vocation: “You cannot go into it half-heartedly. It is challenging, but so rewarding – just from the look on someone’s face when they have just understood a difficult maths concept or got the grade to go on to the next stage in their life.”

She said: “Here I have never met such a dedicated group of professionals who always go above and beyond. Staff always giving up their time and supporting one and other.

Mrs Tipper had come to Lincolnshire after teaching for 19 years in Staffordshire, then working at Lincoln’s Yardborough School before arriving in Sleaford, but she is a Lincolnshire girl, going to Boston High School, so this was coming home.

She said taking on the role of heading up pastoral care was a steep learning curve, with systems and legislation, but also about common sense and treating young people as if they were your own.

“If you go down that route you cannot go far wrong,” she says.

She recalls going meet a troubled student with a colleague in McDonalds on a Saturday night. Another student missed out on her place for university and Mrs Tipper was advising and assisting her while on holiday in Cornwall.

Sometimes the role is about signposting students to the right help: “I do not know all the answers, but it is directing them for the help they need,” Mrs Tipper said.

She admits still being amazed when a student came to her with a worry about not handing her homework in on time. “You have less behavioural issues in a school like this. The girls here are amazing. Their thirst for knowledge in faultless.

“Mental health is a huge issue these days and increasingly so, taking up more and more of our time. LGBT is far more prevalent and our girls are very accepting and understanding.

“There are pressures with exams, social media and trying to keep them off their phones. Technology has a place in society, and is useful, but the girls have a real fear of missing out if they are not on their phone 24/7. They are striving for perfection that is not necessarily real or achievable.

“Social media, when I came here, was virtually non-existent. I remember trying to get to grips with Beebo, Myspace and then Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Whatsapp and Twitter.

“Teenagers want to fit in and not be different from the rest –to be accepted. But they should be proud of who they are as individuals. But I have worked as part of an amazing team who give unlimited amount of their time to help young people.”

She added: “The girls put such pressure on themselves to do well they have such high ambitions, which makes them wonderful to work with.”

Teaching has changed, she admits, recalling parents being more supportive of teachers when she began her career, whereas today people are quick to blame them for the ills of the world and expecting them to put it right. But she does not believe young people have changed.

She has felt rewarded when students come back to visit and show off their careers and family, proving she has made a difference. “If I had my life again I would still teach,” she said.