Tim Brighouse, who died in December 2023, will be missed and fondly remembered by most of us who have been involved in schools and education. Members of the Humanities Association will remember his support for our then small association lacking the power and influence of other subject associations by hosting and opening one of our annual conferenced. His achievements in education were massive. As CEO in Birmingham he made a major contribution to school improvement across the city and as Schools Commissioner in London he introduced and led London Challenge which was instrumental in turning around the capitals schools to make them an international success story. What was most remarkable about Tim Brighouse was not just the massive improvement in schools’ academic success he helped to create but the support and affection he enjoyed amongst teachers. (For example teachers across Birmingham contributed to his legal costs when he took the Education Secretary of State to court for calling him a madman) Not that he wasn’t prepared to take difficult decisions, he survived the highly politically charged educational climate of London and Birmingham and was prepared to move on headteachers and managers who he thought were blocking progress. Tim engendered trust and support by his constant efforts to meet with and connect with teachers to highlight their importance and achievements and to show through so many different ways that he genuinely cared about and valued them.

It is hard to sum up Tim’s educational philosophy. It was both informed by a wide and eclectic grasp of educational theories and the pragmatic providing accessible practical advice for teachers that really did make a difference, He was an advocate of a broad curriculum for students, assessment which supported rather than dominated teaching, cooperation rather than competition, debate rather than dogma, an opponent of the over punitive organisation Ofsted had become and a staunch supporter of the professional autonomy of teachers.

At the heart of Tim Brighouse’s approach to education and what made him a great educational figure and an infectious optimist was his humanitarianism. His belief in the power of positive relationships within and across schools, of showing teachers that they were cared about and that they would be supported and that a confident, innovative, strong and dedicated workforce could and would make a difference to the quality and outcomes of education in schools, cities and across the country.

It may be tempting to see Tim Brighouse as a relic from a past golden age of strong LEAs and a teacher-controlled curriculum. Since then LEAs have all but disappeared and schools have become semi privatised and competitive units regulated by a strong central governance and imbued with a managerialist discourse of performativity and quantifiable outcomes. The work of Tim Brighouse shows that a different direction was possible one which did and will work and help us build a confident and successful educational system from the discredited wreckage of the present one.

To put all this into stark relief imagine for one impossible moment what would have happened if Tim Brighouse had become, what many of us advocated, Chief Inspector for Ofsted. Imagine what Ofsted could have been like now. Imagine how it could have supported teachers, engendered confidence not self-loathing and paranoia, supporting self-evaluation not being an instrument of central regulation and control, a means of sharing good practice and encouraging cooperation not a mechanism for competition. To begin to explore the gap between these two positions is to begin to appreciate what Tim Brighouse stood for and the principles and practice we need to build an education system we can have confidence in.