Tributes to beloved former Wivelsfield Primary head teacher

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Tributes have been paid to a much-loved former head teacher of Wivelsfield Primary School who has died after a battle against cancer.

Rita Tipple who was Head Teacher of the school for 21 years from 1989 to 2010, passed away on May 7.

Marion Whear, chair of the school governors, paid tribute to Miss Tipple who worked in education throughout her career.

She said: “Everyone was very shocked and saddened to hear that Rita has passed away despite a very brave battle against illness.

“She was very much loved by the children and generations of former Wivelsfield Primary School students will have very fond memories of her, as do the staff and everyone who knew her.

“Rita was a very gentle lady, and very dignified, and was very popular with the children, fellow teachers and school staff, and held in high regard by the education authorities at East Sussex County Council. “

Miss Tipple oversaw the school’s transition, in 2007, from former Victorian buildings in Church Lane to new premises in South Road.

The move was the culmination of a long campaign in which the popular member of staff played a key role in convincing education chiefs at county hall and councillors of the need for up-to-date facilities.

Mrs Whear added: “I am sure one of the reasons the new school campaign was ultimately successful was due to her perseverance and quiet but effective diplomacy in putting forward the case on behalf of the children.”

She said Miss Tipple stood out in having a strong commitment to raising and maintaining standards while also making school an enjoyable experience for children who had the opportunity to learn new activities and develop as individuals.

This was highlighted in numerous official reports and inspections which consistently praised Wivelsfield Primary for having a friendly and welcoming environment in which children could achieve their full potential.

Jonathan Rowsell, who took over from Miss Tipple as head teacher when she retired in 2010, had the sad duty of reporting the news to Year 5 and 6 students.

He said: “It is very sad news and we are all very shocked. Wivelsfield is a very special primary school and much of that is due to Rita’s legacy.”

Miss Tipple came to Wivelsfield Primary after teaching at primary schools in Lewes and Brighton.

She also worked for a number of years in Germany.

In retirement, she pursued her lifelong interest in creative writing, after having written many of the school’s summer productions.

Lesley Wickham, head of education improvement at East Sussex County Council, said: “Her depth of understanding of children’s learning and development was an inspiration to everyone who knew her.

“Her passionate belief in her role in the development of new and aspiring teachers has influenced the career paths of the many teachers and headteachers across East Sussex, who have benefitted from her wisdom, guidance and support.

“Rita was dedicated to ensuring that the pupils of Wivelsfield Primary School received the best possible education and she worked tirelessly to achieve her goal. It was a great source of joy to her that she was finally able to see the fulfilment of her dream of a new school for Wivelsfield, a task that she managed and achieved in her inimitable calm, professional manner.”

“She has left a rich legacy, which is a fitting tribute to her unstinting devotion to the school and its community.”

A funeral will be held at Saltdean Church on May 29 at 2.30pm. Donations should be sent to Cancer Research or Martlets Hospice.

A thanksgiving service to celebrate the life of Rita Tipple will be held at Wivelsfield parish church in Church Lane in early July. The date is yet to be confirmed.