Northern light retires

6th August 1999 at 01:00
Geraldine Hackett looks back on the career of Chris Tipple, chief education officer of Northumberland

THERE is probably a greater chance of winning the lottery than becoming chief education officer in Northumberland.

The county's schools have had only five CEOs since the turn of the century and for the past 15 years the job has been held by Chris Tipple.

The highly regarded Mr Tipple,probably the longest serving chief education officer in the country, ends a 34-year stint in education administration this month .

It is a source of regret to Mr Tipple that the severe cuts in the education budget during the 1990s has meant a difficult time for schools, though in the past two or three years the position has begun to improve.

Northumberland has emerged fairly unscathed from an inspection by the Office for Standards in Education - an experience that left councils such as Hackney and Liverpool reeling.

It was during the dark days when local authorities were cold-shouldered by the Conservative government that Mr Tipple did his stint as president of the Society of Education Officers.

At that time Sanctuary Buildings, headquarters of the Department for Education , was occupied by John Patten. After his removal from the Cabinet by John Major, Gillian Shephard took over.

"In that period we were only invited to the DFEE once or twice, quite the reverse of today," he says. "I saw it as my job just to keep morale up."

The young Mr Tipple began his career just as education authorities were facing up to the prospect of comprehensive schools. His first job in administration was with the City of Carlisle and from there he moved Birmingham - the furthest south he ever got.

He was employed in Birmingham to install closed-circuit television in the city's schools, but by the time he arrived, the scheme had been scrapped.

Eventually, he was given the task of producing schemes for comprehensive re-organisation, none of which the Tory council really wanted to implement.

Mr Tipple remembers his days in the old West Riding of Yorkshire with greater affection. The then director, Sir Alec Clegg, was a charismatic figure who left his officers to get on with their work.

The West Riding was divided into 15 authorities under the 1974 major reorganisation of local government and Mr Tipple went off to be deputy director in Leeds.

After a short secondment to the Audit Commission, he moved to Northumberland. It says something about the place that his successor, Dr Lindsay Davies, has taken a pay cut to return. She was a divisional director in Northumberland before becoming chief education officer in Wiltshire. She is also the first woman to hold the job.

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