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Emotional send off for headteacher who oversaw school’s rise from ashes of devastating fire

PUBLISHED: 06:30 24 October 2020

Tim Lawes who has retired as headteacher at Catton Grove fter 21 years, a period that saw a fire at the school in 2011. Picture: Catton Grove Primary/Bill Smith

Tim Lawes who has retired as headteacher at Catton Grove fter 21 years, a period that saw a fire at the school in 2011. Picture: Catton Grove Primary/Bill Smith

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Seeing his school burn to the ground and overseeing its rise from the ashes almost four times the size - being headteacher has been both eventful and rewarding for Tim Lawes.

Tim Lawes has the school bounce back from a desvastating fire and expand to Norfolk's biggest primary during his time at Catton Grove. Picture: Simon ParkinTim Lawes has the school bounce back from a desvastating fire and expand to Norfolk's biggest primary during his time at Catton Grove. Picture: Simon Parkin

The retirement of the inspirational head at Catton Grove Primary after 21 years in charge was marked with an emotional day of celebration on the last day before half-term, including both staff and pupils in fancy dress.

Youngsters acted out special scenes based on memorable events and sang a specially composed new school anthem, the framed lyrics to which were signed by the pupils and presented to Mr Lawes.

There was also a video message from his daughter Sophie, who previously worked at the school and is now an assistant headteacher in London. His son, Jonny, is also a teacher in Georgia, proving a love of education runs in the family.

Headteacher Tim Lawes (front centre) and the pupils and staff of Catton Grove Primary celebrate their Headteacher Tim Lawes (front centre) and the pupils and staff of Catton Grove Primary celebrate their "good" Ofsted report in 2016. Picture: Simon Finlay

Having been appointed in 1999 his time in charge of the Norwich school has coincided with a huge period of change.

Two years after taking charge the school suffered a devastating fire during the summer holidays. Later, he oversaw the amalgamation of infants and middle schools and a big rise in pupil numbers.

All the while the school has achieved good Ofsted reports despite pupils coming from some of the city’s most challenged communities.

Catton Grove middle school as the fire was damped down.
Photo: Bill Smith een 8/8/01Catton Grove middle school as the fire was damped down. Photo: Bill Smith een 8/8/01

He said: “When I came here it was a middle school with just over 200 kids and we are now probably Norfolk’s largest primary school with over 750. It has been a real change.

MORE: Oversubscribed Norfolk secondary school appoints new headteacher

“When we had the fire in 2001 which burnt the place down we had temporary accommodation for 18 months and watched the school being built up again around us.

“Then in 2007 when we amalgamated for the two tier system we had another building programme that finished in 2014, then more building because we started to increase the numbers.

Tim Lawes with pupils in fancy dress as part of celebrations marking him stepping down after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon ParkinTim Lawes with pupils in fancy dress as part of celebrations marking him stepping down after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon Parkin

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“Of the 21 years I have been here, for 15 the school has been physically being built, so we have had to cope with that as well as all the day to day learning.

“But you have to hold fast to our principles and take the pressure on your shoulders so everyone else can get on with what they’re good at and what really matters - what goes on in the classroom.”

Young pupils in fancy dress take part in celebrations marking the retirement of Tim Lawes after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon ParkinYoung pupils in fancy dress take part in celebrations marking the retirement of Tim Lawes after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon Parkin

The school was at the heart of the community, he said, so much so that year three teacher Luka Goodfield is a former pupil.

He added: “In many cases I’ve taught them in the past, and in some cases taught their grandchildren.

“That sense of continuity has really helped because when I came here they’d had four heads in two years. It was a very unstable situation.”

Tim Lawes with special cake marking his retirement after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon ParkinTim Lawes with special cake marking his retirement after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon Parkin

Catherine Lorne, previously deputy head, who will take up the post of headteacher from November after half-term, has actually worked at Catton Grove a year longer than Mr Lawes.

She recalled: “I am the only teacher who hasn’t been employed by him. I became deputy just before the fire happened and that is one way to cement a partnership, in a crisis. Since then we have been on a rollercoaster of a ride.

“The whole school and the whole community has been on a journey. This is a special place. And when a leader stays for 21 years like Mr Lawes has, they have had enough time to really work with a team of people to produce the kind of culture in a school that even when individuals go that culture keeps thriving.”

Young pupils in fancy dress take part in celebrations marking the retirement of Tim Lawes after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon ParkinYoung pupils in fancy dress take part in celebrations marking the retirement of Tim Lawes after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon Parkin

“Kids never really change,” said Mr Lawes. “When I first started here I think they’d had a pretty rough deal for quite a long time.

“Our moral purpose is to ensure what we do brings out the absolute best in our kids because a lot of them don’t have a great deal. We want to make sure whatever we do gives them the best opportunities they can get.

“That’s what makes education such a fulfilling job and I have been in a very privileged position where I could make that happen.”

Tim Lawes with framed picture of the lyrics of a new school anthem written to mark him stepping down after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon ParkinTim Lawes with framed picture of the lyrics of a new school anthem written to mark him stepping down after 21 years as headteacher at Catton Grove school in Norwich. Picture: Simon Parkin

MORE: Tributes to Norfolk headteacher who gave pupils a ‘chance to shine’


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