God in the Life Of Kathy Winrow

Kathy Winrow during a trip to North Hinksey. Photo: Jo Duckles

Kathy Winrow during a trip to North Hinksey. Photo: Jo Duckles

Kathy Winrow has known her vocation since she first set up a Sunday school for youngsters at the local children’s home when she was just 14. Despite retiring as Headteacher of Ranelagh CE School in Bracknell, she is busier than ever making a difference in the lives of children and young people.

Kathy lives and worships in Berkshire but is a frequent visitor to Diocesan Church House, so we met round the corner for coffee at The Fishes pub in North Hinksey where she told me her story, writes Jo Duckles.

Originally from Barnsley, a mining town in South Yorkshire, Kathy credits her success to the people in her life who have made a difference to her. “I have a good life. My parents did everything they could to support me particularly through my education – the essential gateway for northern working class families in post- war Britain.”

She moved to London to study when she was 18, starting her teaching career four years later in Hounslow. She was there at the time of the Southall riots and enjoyed the challenge of new community schools, working in the borough for 18 years. Kathy says, “These multifaith schools were exciting and invigorating and provided a great start for my career.” Kathy became a deputy head at the age of just 32 – a real achievement for a woman at that time. She then moved to Hampshire as Education Adviser/ Inspector working on management development in 14 schools.

Always motivated by her faith and involved in Anglican churches, the move to Ranelagh three years later was very natural. She was the only woman who applied for the headship and, at interview, Governors were still talking about the new headmaster. Things were to change. She has proudly led the school through several outstanding Ofsted inspections as well as national initiatives including the transition to Academy status.

As a national leader in education, Kathy has supported several schools in the South East in their journey to become good. “I just have this passion for making sure that young people have the very best deal possible. Sadly I think we live in a society where teenagers are often put down. Some adults don’t see them as the wonderful individuals they are or realise all they can do,” says Kathy. After leaving Ranelagh last year Kathy continued with her work as Chair of the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) and Executive Head at the Aylesbury Vale Academy.

Kathy is just as proud of her hands-on teaching role as of her leadership and management. Whether teaching very able A-level students or youngsters with special needs, she has relished the challenge to enable them to learn.

“I remember teaching year seven geography and helping a girl with Down’s Syndrome to understand six figure grid- references. She is 19 now, at college and following her passion working with horses. I am still in contact with her,” says Kathy, telling just one of many satisfying anecdotes from a long teaching career. She proudly states that she is still in contact with many former students who have gone on to work in a range of professions.

While Ranelagh is recognised as an outstanding school, life there was not always easy, particularly when Kathy experienced four student deaths in four consecutive years. “Leading Ranelagh through that period was challenging but also affirming because the school came together and individuals supported each other. It was my faith that led me through that time.” Kathy also enjoyed seeing the school celebrate its 300th anniversary with a service at Christ Church Cathedral.

As she retired from Ranelagh, after 22 years as headteacher, the students persuaded the governors that an additional House was needed, due to the expansion of the school and that it should be named Winrow House. A sculpture ‘Seeds of Learning’ was also commissioned, incorporating words students used to describe Kathy. At the end of term concert, apologies were made to Carl Orff as the words to O Fortuna were changed in her honour! “These events were so important to me, especially as the ideas came from the students,” says Kathy.

“I had a real hang-up when I knew I was retiring from Ranelagh as I did not understand how I could put down a vocation. After talking to the then Archdeacon of Berkshire, Norman Russell. I realised I wasn’t putting down but just serving in a different way.”  She had already been part of the early planning for the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust. “We knew there was a huge risk involved but that it was the right thing for the Diocese,” she says. “It is so important to have church school multi-academy trusts that are focused on providing quality education and are also rooted in Christian values.”

Kathy is also involved in the National Centre for Universities and Business, and amazingly finds time for hobbies, one of which is listening to inspiring talks and she regularly attends the Inspiring Leadership Conference. Kathy also enjoys a bit of amateur dramatics, and loves having Newbury’s Watermill Theatre on her doorstep. “It’s a busy lifestyle but it’s the lifestyle I have chosen,” she says, happily describing a myriad of roles she has at St George’s, Wash Common, where her husband, the Revd Terry Winrow is part of the ministry team.

She met Terry at a church youth club aged just 12. They went their separate ways, but eventually got together and have now been married for 42 years. Terry spent most of his life in business consultancy, before becoming an LLM and eventually going forward for ordination. Together they lead the youth work at St George’s—the secondary age ‘Justacross’ group meet regularly at Terry and Kathy’s home; they run the annual holiday club for over 100 local children, ably supported by a large team of helpers; and Kathy leads the Sunday Club for five to 11 year olds. She also leads the Vision Group on Nurture and Discipleship. The life and work of St Benedict resonates with her: “His teaching on Contemplative Action is still so relevant today—although I admit I can be more into action than contemplation.”

Full of energy, she remains committed to working for young people and believes Nelson Mandela got it right when he said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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