February 2016


  • Storm warning
    Julia Harnden looks at what the outcome of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review means for education and how schools can navigate the choppy waters ahead. More
  • Surviving trauma
    Kate Dolmor’s world was turned upside down when her husband became gravely ill. Support from the ASCL Benevolent Fund has helped Kate and her family deal with the practical and personal fall-out ever since. More
  • First principles
    The profession needs to take back the initiative on assessment and recover the ground lost during the decades when it became a tool of accountability rather than an aid to learning, says Brian Lightman. More
  • Ease the pressure
    Leaders need to set clear strategies now for coping with their school’s or college’s workload if they are to confront the challenges of the next few years. Suzanne O’Farrell and Sam Ellis, leaders of a new ASCL course on the subject, set out the issues. More
  • Opening minds
    Simon Cohen, a keynote speaker at ASCL’s Annual Conference, talks to Julie Nightingale about giving away his business, laughing with the Dalai Lama and why children are our biggest source of wisdom. More
  • A common purpose
    The English and Welsh education systems may be diverging but both must be shaped by the values of their educators if improvement is to be sustained, say ASCL’s Leora Cruddas and Tim Pratt. More
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Kate Dolmor’s world was turned upside down when her husband became gravely ill. Support from the ASCL Benevolent Fund has helped Kate and her family deal with the practical and personal fall-out ever since.

Surviving trauma

Three years ago, Kate Dolmor was vice-principal at a newly built academy and about to embark on the next step of her career path with interviews for headship. Then came the blow that has changed Kate and her family’s life forever, forcing her to abandon the job she loved to become a full-time carer, clashing with the NHS and giving unwanted insight into the care system along the way. 

In January 2013, Kate’s husband, Dave, a civil servant, went to see a heart specialist after being diagnosed with an irregular heart beat following a cold. It had appeared routine but at the appointment he was told that the arrhythmia put him at immediate risk of a stroke.

Dave was given warfarin to reduce the risks of a blood clot forming but two days later Kate was awoken by unusual noise and movement from his side of the bed. 

“He couldn’t move. He was trying to turn but couldn’t and he also couldn’t talk to me,” she recalls. In hospital, doctors found that Dave had suffered a massive stroke, damaging the communication area of the brain, stopping him from speaking and paralysing his right side. “I don’t think that what had happened really hit me until I started to phone work and the schools to tell them that we would not be there that day,” Kate says. “I went back to the hospital and I was seen by a young doctor who confirmed that Dave… might not recover at all.” 

But after two weeks – although he was still very poorly Dave – was out of immediate danger and he was moved to a rehabilitation centre in another hospital. 

By this time Kate had returned to work and the children, Ellie, 13, and Joe, 11, to school but they were “existing rather than living” and Kate was shuttling between work, hospital and home every day. 

In March 2013, she was told that Dave would never walk again but that the hospital felt that he was able to go home. Kate disagreed and felt that the hospital was trying to rush him home, as did Dave himself.

“Dave could only say one or two words,” Kate says. “In his head, he was saying the right words but they came out in the wrong order or just as sounds. We had always enjoyed life together and our sense of humour continued, so laughing got us through the dark days. I became better at understanding Dave. He was adamant that he was going to walk again. He was also stubborn enough not to be discharged from hospital until he could.” 

‘Negative language’ 

After dispiriting discussions with the occupational health team – “I have never sat through so many meetings where negative language was used” – it was agreed that Dave would come home. Kate had a stairlift installed so that he could return to their marital bed upstairs, rather than turning the dining room into a bedroom and, for the next 12 weeks, Dave worked with a physiotherapist and made enough progress to get around the house with a stick. A care team visited three times a day to get him up, washed and dressed, provide lunch and help him to bed at night, easing the burden on Kate, who was still working. 

They had developed a routine of sorts but it was about to be disrupted again. 

Kate’s academy was moving to a new site and downsizing its senior management team, which spelt redundancy for her with the stopgap of a one-year contract to help oversee the move. In the midst of this, Dave was rushed to hospital with a major seizure – a result of post-stroke epilepsy – that would prove to be the first of many. 

Kate found herself, at 51, with a young family, a disabled husband and no job. At this point, she says, her years of training kicked in and resilience took over, bolstered by her faith. 

“Despite all that had happened, I trusted that God would help me through. I knew for a couple of years that we could survive financially, even if I didn’t work. When I finished school in July 2013, my vocation in life changed from a senior leader and teacher to a full-time carer.” 

There were more dashes to hospital over the next few months. In November 2013, Dave had three seizures in the same day, causing heart failure, and he was put on a ventilator in the high-dependency unit with Kate and her priest praying for his life. 

“Again, I thought he was going to die,” she says. 

Dave was discharged after three weeks and, once home, had speech and language therapy once a week from a therapist and daily with Kate, and continued with his physiotherapy. 

It is a world away from their previous lives, she says. 

“For anyone who has no previous experience of a stroke survivor, as I was, it is such a great change to the way we lived. As a family we went on holiday every school break, to cottages and the beach. I haven’t had a holiday now since October 2012. And it is tiring. There is no respite care available for a 54 year-old man.” 

Fantastic support 

But on the brighter side, their children are resilient and the family has had fantastic support from Barnardo’s and from the children’s schools.

The family has also had help from ASCL through the Benevolent Fund that paid for an en suite to be converted to a wet room and alterations to a downstairs bathroom, plus a power pack for Dave’s wheelchair, making it easier for Kate and the children to push. The fund has also helped pay for Dave’s treatment by neuro-specialist physiotherapists.

“The work done with Dave is brilliant. He has recently walked up a set of stairs to a therapy session and, remarkably, down the stairs for the first time last week,” says Kate. “I couldn’t have done this without the support of ASCL. From the field officer who initially helped me by listening, to the trustees of the ASCL Benevolent Fund, I couldn’t have had more help.”

And Kate is grateful for the care the fund provides beyond immediate financial needs. 

“During these two years, at times I felt that I have had to fight for every bit of help, apart from that given by ASCL. The trustees stay in touch, checking that we are all right, which is very reassuring.” 

Kate stays in contact with education through her membership of ASCL and as a school governor, although her old life in school seems a million years ago now, she says. 

“I have fond memories of my working life and enjoyed every minute. Would I consider going back? I don’t think that I could leave Dave to do that. 

“If I could give any message from our experience it would be to live life to the full. Enjoy every day and experience and look after your health.”

The ASCL Benevolent Fund

In December, the trustees of the Benevolent Fund of the former Headmasters’ Association (HMA) amalgamated their funds with the ASCL Benevolent Fund. This means that there is a significant and growing resource available to support ASCL members in whatever kind of need. 

The ASCL Benevolent Fund is an important element in the association’s policy of providing protection and care for all of its members, past and present, and their dependants. While most members, active and in post, are unlikely to need help, a serious accident, redundancy, chronic illness or disability can change the situation quite traumatically.

Whether it is a short-term financial crisis or a long-term problem, the fund stands ready to help. Last year, the fund was used to assist more than 40 beneficiaries, some of which were long-term cases and some short-term emergencies. 

If you know someone who may benefit from the fund or if you think you may benefit yourself, please call 0116 2991122or find out more onlinewww.ascl.org.uk/ benevolentfund