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Sad News


I received some dreadfully sad news on Wednesday.

Jean Webber, who many of you will remember, sadly passed away following a short illness. I’m going to dedicate this blog to one of the most influential colleagues and inspirational people I have ever had the pleasure of working alongside.

Jean and I go back a long way.

In 1995 I was interviewed by Jean, and the rest of the Governing body, to the be the Deputy Head of a small school, Hill Top, in Moorside, Oldham. Little did I know the journey it would lead us all on.

I remember vividly Jean asking a question at interview as to where I saw the school in the future – with my usual arrogance I replied I wanted the school to offer the children, young people, families and staff the very best opportunities. I wanted the school to have a reputation of being one of the best in the region and the country. I left the interview thinking I’d overstepped the mark and that they were bound to select one of the other candidates…

The next day and following an anxious wait, Jean, who was one of the staff Governors, rang me to tell me I’d got the job – nothing to do with what I’d said but because I had the audacity to wear “comical” socks for an interview (it was the 1990s…)

When I started at Hill Top in the January of 1996, I quickly realised that Jean was one of a number of colleagues who could change so much and offer so much great advice.

Hill Top was a lovely school, but due to its location and building limitations, was only ever going to take us so far with our ambitions. Jean was instrumental in telling me to do something about it!

Her support and guidance as we thought about our ambitious change strategy was invaluable. Her wise counsel, her down to earth approach, but most importantly her principles shone through.

Fast forward to today and I still remember Jean giving me a guiding principal. Jean always reinforced that everything we did, or changed, had to make a difference to the young people and their families. If it wasn’t going to make a difference and improve their lives, forget it, and do something else.

When Dave, Anne and myself had the idea of merging our 3 schools together, Jean was there to challenge me.

Would it make a difference to our children and families?

She’d often remind me to communicate with staff and governors. To be honest, most of the time she did it. I knew that Jean would “sweep up”. She had the most amazing skill of “smoothing out” issues.

She was absolutely the person who would be conciliatory and diplomatic.

When I charged on regardless, Jean was one of my colleagues who brought me back to earth and would often give me the nicest “telling off”.

When I made a mess of an issue she’d tell me, not in a nasty way, but in a manner that made me even more determined to get it right.

It’s amazing to think that senior staff, nowadays, in schools pay fortunes for this type of support – in the 1990s every school just needed a Jean.

Jean was formidable and single minded. She was instrumental at the start of our New Bridge journey. She saw the potential of creating a purpose-built school. She continued as my PA and as a Governor. She encouraged me to play a part in local, regional and national groups. She often worked 15-hour days and, in usual Jean fashion, made sure she dealt with the issues I’d messed up with.

I also want to take this opportunity to paint a picture of Jean, the friend.

A friend not just to me, but to countless colleagues over the years. Many staff and families knew Jean as an amazing and caring lady who could be a confidant and a shoulder to cry on.

Jean was always there for everyone. She’s always stopped her work and gave time to people. Jean taught me the value in offering space and time for people.

She’d stress to me the value of listening and trying to help and support. Jean knew us all and our families – she understood the challenges of daily life and helped us with our problems.

She valued every single member of the team regardless of status. We were a team and we succeeded or failed together. She’d so often bring me down a peg or two!

When New Bridge started to expand, Jean was enthusiastic. Even into her 60s she lost none of her passion for change.

She oversaw the developments in our Pre internships, the creation of our curriculum pathways, the opening of Horizons, the building of Hollinwood and the subsequent growth of the Trust.

At every stage she kept reminding me – “make sure it makes a difference to the young people and their families.”

When Jean eventually retired, I wrote this in her card,

“You, along with many other colleagues, were instrumental in allowing us to dream about an improved offer. Our journey towards New Bridge wasn’t without challenges – do you remember our “tin hats” moments!! The rest, as they say, is history. From a small school in the middle of Moorside we have brought in over £30million of investment, employ almost 700 local people and now support almost 1200 learners. Our offer now supports people from 4 to 30 year olds! Our initial Hill Top mission statement of “Towards Independence” now has a structure to back it up!

I know that your contribution, as a colleague, friend and governor, has made a significant difference to the young people and their families. Thank you so much.”

As the news of Jean’s passing has spread I have had a number of lovely comments from members of our staff team that remember her dearly:

“Jean was a lovely kind hearted lady who was so understanding and supportive of others and she will be sadly missed by our New Bridge family. In my thoughts

” What a marvellous lady. Thoughts and love to the family”

“Such sad, sad news . She was such a lovely lady”

“Bless, she was amazing and loved by all”

“Always a pleasure to be see and be welcomed by Jean on arrival at the school/s she was based, she never failed to brighten your mood”

“She was indeed a truly lovely lady and she will be sorely missed by many.”

Rest in peace Jean – all our love goes out to Phil and Alison.


Jean Webber a true member of our New Bridge family.


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