Saturday, 25 Mar 2023

How Emma Pattison rose to become head of Epsom College

Farmers’ girl who became first female head of one of Britain’s leading private schools: ‘Murdered’ Epsom College head Emma Pattinson turned her back on career with Thomas Cook before joining teacher elite

  •  Mrs Pattison remembered as an ‘inspirational’ leader and a ‘delightful person’ 
  • REPORT: Head ‘was shot dead by her husband who also killed their daughter’ 

Emma Pattison grew up on a farm in Lincoln before rising to become the first female headteacher of one of Britain’s most prestigious schools.

She recalled getting up to feed the chickens at 6.30am each morning to feed the chickens before attending Guildford High School, where she began a lifelong love of learning. 

After reading French and English Literature at the University of Leeds, Mrs Pattison joined the Thomas Cook graduate training programme hoping to travel the world. 

But instead she found herself based in Bromley, south London which she later joked was not ‘quite the sparkly lights of where I’d imagined I’d end up’.

It was only when the farmer’s daughter flicked through a copy of the Times Educational Supplement in a coffee shop that a fire within her was lit for a career in teaching.

She later recalled the eureka moment: ‘I thought, why am I doing something I absolutely hate? This is much more fun.’ 

Emma Pattison had a meteoritic rise through the teaching profession which saw her become the first female head of Epsom College 

Mrs Pattison with her daughter Lettie. The seven-year-old has been described as a ‘little angel’ and ‘perfect in every way’ following her death on Sunday morning 

Mrs Pattison took her first teaching job at Lutterworth College in South Leicestershire, before stints at private Caterham School in Surrey and Guildford High School.

At the latter she rose to become Head of Foreign Languages and married her husband George in 2011. They would later go on to have a daughter, Lettie. 

She progressed to become deputy head at St John’s School in Leatherhead the following year before becoming headteacher at Croydon High School in south London three years later.

Mrs Pattison would later say she ‘absolutely loved’ her time there, but chose to become headteacher at Epsom because it was a school she had ‘long admired’.

Friends told the Daily Mail she ‘couldn’t wait’ to get started as the first ever female headteacher at ‘such a prestigious school’.

Within a month of arriving, Epsom College scooped Independent School of the Year and the Student Wellbeing award.

The headteacher, who was described by the parent of a former pupil as ‘slight but very formidable’, had taken up the role just five months before her death 

Mrs Pattison described it as ‘an incredible honour’, adding: ‘I am incredibly proud to be Head and we will display this award with real pride.’  

In December – four months after arriving – Mrs Pattison, 51, told a pupil podcast that she was ‘absolutely loving’ her time at Epsom. 

Husband who ‘shot dead his wife and their daughter before turning gun on himself reported her to the police six years earlier for ‘striking him’ before withdrawing complaint’


‘It’s been very busy but absolutely wonderful. The college have been so supportive and everyone has been very, very welcoming,’ she said.

The only suggestion of any problems was the pressure the move had put on her family.  

‘In terms of transition it’s been a really big change for my family,’ she said.

‘So we’ve obviously moved house, we’ve got a dog, I’ve got a new job, my husband’s got a new job, which wasn’t meant to happen but did, and my daughter has started at a new school.

‘So there’s been a lot of change for us as a family, but it’s been wonderful.’    

Before her untimely death – believed to be at the hands of her husband, George – she had been dreaming of changing the face of independent schools to make them ‘part of the solution to some of the problems in society’. 

‘If our pupils are going to lead in the world, let’s make sure that they really understand that world,’ she said.

‘They understand the structure of it, the problems, the issues and why things can’t just be fixed so easily.

‘The image of the exclusive private school has to be a thing of the past. Exclusivity is a dirty word nowadays. The independent schools’ sector has to offer something very different going forward, for its own pupils and the impact it could bring.

‘It could be time to shape a really exciting future for the country.’ 

Mrs Pattison shared a photo of her with a colleague after Epsom was named Independent School of the Year 

Mrs Pattison appearing on a pupil podcast in December, when she spoke of experiencing some ‘really big changes’ including taking new jobs, moving house and getting a new dog

Mrs Pattison wanted to open the school to allow diverse groups to join particular classes and access a range of projects – rather than just offering bursary schemes.

Epsom College gave over 9,830 hours of community service in the last year, estimated to be worth more than £141,000 in ‘social value’. 

Alongside her professional life, Mrs Pattison enjoyed playing the piano and going jogging. But most of all she loved reading. 

‘There is something about being a lifelong learner,’ she said. 

‘And if you’re a reader and a modern linguist who likes going and talking to people and exploring different versions of life, I think that fits in with someone who always wants to grow, learn, explore and, I suppose, live life to the fullest.’ 

Mrs Pattison said she ‘hadn’t looked back’ since going into teaching, adding that ‘working with you people keeps you young, they keep you energised’. 

In turn, she was praised for ‘enriching’ the lives of her students, tending both to their academic needs and personal developments.  

Mrs Pattison, 45, was found dead with her husband George, 39, and seven-year-old daughter Lettie after police were called on Sunday

Mr Pattison had not been previously reported to the police, but in 2016 he reported his wife for allegedly striking him

Among her many former colleagues to pay tribute was Cheryl Giovannoni, chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), of which Croydon High School is part.

‘Emma touched the lives of all of us with her energy, wisdom and kindness during her six years as head of Croydon High School and the school will always bear the legacy of her inspiring leadership,’ she said. 

Recalling her as ‘slight but formidable’, a mother of a pupil told BBC News: ‘In her time as headteacher, she turned the school around, and she did so many things that enriched the children’s lives.

‘She was slight but very formidable, she knew all of the pupils by name. She was exactly what you would want from a headteacher.’

Also paying tribute was Dr Alastair Wells, chairman of the board of governors at Epsom College, who said: ‘Emma was a wonderful teacher, but most of all she was a delightful person. 

‘In time we will commemorate Emma and her family, in the appropriate way, and in line with the wishes of her family.’

Surrey Police today confirmed it had recovered Mr Pattison’s gun and was treating the case as a murder investigation with ‘no third-party involvement’ 

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