Pupils I'll never forget

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Ian Tatlock recalls a student who taught him as much as he taught her

Catherine Henderson (pictured below) was in my first pastoral cohort when I became head of house. I must have met her in Year 7, but I first remember her in Year 8, when she was on the receiving end of bullying. Even then she struck me as intelligent, mature beyond her years. I was very cross when one of her music compositions didn't win a prize; she told me to move on and get over it. Early in Year 10 I had my suspicions that she was becoming anorexic.

Her mum and dad came with her to see me, to say she was going into the Priory psychiatric hospital in Altrincham, Manchester. She was almost broken at that point: thin, gaunt, pale, very poorly. She seemed powerless; very, very down. The three of them walked away from the school and I thought what a hard time they were having, but also what unity there was between them.

The next time I saw her was when I visited her in the Priory. She seemed better in her mind; she was laughing again. Then she came out and I started taking work to her home. She would devour the work; she had a kind of hunger for it.

I think she suspected that I didn't understand eating disorders, so she tried to help me. In my clumsy way I thought, "Well, just eat then". She could see I wanted to know more and she educated me. She gave me pamphlets and leaflets and told me which programmes to watch, and I did as I was told.

As she got over her difficulties and came back to school, she took on the role of peer counsellor and helped other students with eating disorders, and with more run-of-the-mill problems.

We played together in the band for a school production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I plodded along on guitar and she played honky-tonk piano, stopping to go through the music with me because that's the way she was.

Academically, Catherine is exceptionally able - she's at Oxford University now, reading history - but her huge intellect is underpinned by a generosity of spirit and a lot of common sense.

Ian Tatlock is head of house at Wilmslow high school, Cheshire. He was talking to Karen Gold

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