Lives Remembered

Far-sighted educationalist whose ideas are embraced around the world

Catherine Coxhead was the first chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools

Catherine Coxhead was an inspiring and far-sighted educationalist whose ideas are now being embraced across the world.

As the first chief executive of the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), she had a huge influence on education in Northern Ireland.

She led the introduction of the first 'common' curriculum for schools and later initiated its radical revision.

To inform that review Catherine commissioned one of the first ever cohort studies of the views of young people. It ran over seven years and had a massive impact on the revision process.

Catherine also commissioned a literature review of ‘thinking skills' interventions, which was then disseminated across the UK and far beyond.

As a result Northern Ireland was one of the first education systems in the world to place thinking skills and personal capabilities as a core element of the curriculum, something that international organisations such as UNESCO/IBE and the OECD continue to promote today.

She also initiated research to explore ‘emotional intelligence', long before Daniel Goleman popularised the concept with his book of the same name.

This led to the incorporation of personal development and local and global citizenship into the curriculum. She also championed work on employability, financial capability and sustainability.

Catherine really believed in research-informed development and was a powerhouse of creativity behind a shy and self-effacing exterior.

Like her, the revised curriculum was ahead of its time and its influence endures - it is soon to be an OECD case study of exceptional innovation.

Born in Norfolk in England, Catherine first came to Belfast as a teenager when her father Dr Stanley Worrall was appointed head of Methodist College.

He also served as chairman of the Arts Council and was involving in peace efforts, being among a delegation of Protestant Churchmen and others who secretly met the Provisional IRA in Feakle, Co Clare in 1974.

Catherine was a pupil at Methody for a term before studying maths at Cambridge University and, after qualifying as a teacher, returned for a year to work under her father.

Between school and university she had spent six months volunteering in Africa, the start of a lifelong love of the continent and its people, and she left Belfast to spend several years working at Kenya High School in Nairobi.

She then had various teaching jobs in England before being appointed a maths inspector in Northern Ireland, moving with her husband Geoff Coxhead who worked at Armagh Planetarium.

Before leading CCEA Catherine was also the chief executive of the NI Council for Education Development, founded in 1989.

She spent the last 17 years of her life back in Africa, training maths teachers in Botswana, where she died from pancreatic cancer on November 12 2016. She was 73.

A memorial service was held in Kasane where her ashes were lowered by family members into the Chobe river.

Family and close friends also gathered together on Easter Monday to celebrate her life and contribution to education.

She is sadly missed by her many loyal colleagues and friends.

Dr Carmel Gallagher

Lives Remembered