Top private school gets first female head in five centuries

The Telegraph, 11.12.15, Helen Pike has become the first female teacher of one of Britain's leading independent schools in its 535-year history. Currently Head of South Hampstead High School, HMC member Helen Pike is set to take over Magdalen College School, in Oxford, in August next year. Former HMC Chairman Dr Tim Hands will be leaving the school to become headmaster at Winchester College next year.

Notable old boys include director Sam Mendes and St Thomas More, among many TV presenters, and a noble prize winner.

She has been the head of South Hampstead High School in London for the last three years and the school has rocketed through the rankings.

South Hampstead High School was also shortlisted for the Times Educational Supplement's Outstanding Community Initiative Award in 2015. Ms Pike was named as one of the Ten Heads to Watch by the Good Schools Guide in June 2014.

However, Ms Pike, who has also overseen a two-year £35 million major building project, says she’s not that interested in league tables but in the wellbeing of students.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Ms Pike, whose two step sons have studied at Magdalen College School, said: “I am hoping I am the right woman at the right time.

“My big focus will be on getting to know the pupils and look after their wellbeing. I know it is a wonderful school and I want to maximise its potential and fun.”

Ms Pike is also not keen on putting too much stress on a school’s place in league tables, she says.

She says: “My current school was 29 in [a ranking] but I didn’t make a fuzz with the parents. I am trying not to put too much pressure on the students. I know that exceptional students like to show what they know but it is about striking a balance.”

Ms Pike, who grew up in Preston, studied modern history at Christ Church, Oxford, before studying modern European history at the University of Michigan. Her partner is Professor George Garnett, the Senior Proctor at the University of Oxford.

She lectured at Michigan and University of Warwick before teaching at leading independent schools such as City of London School for Boys and the Royal Grammar School in Guildford, where she was the director of studies from 2009 to 2013.

Ms Pike will succeed Dr Tim Hands as Master of the school.

Magdalen College School chairman Tim Edwards said: "We are fortunate to have appointed such an outstanding candidate. Helen joins us with a wealth of experience from many prestigious schools, and we look forward to her further enhancing Magdalen's position as one of the leading academic schools in the country.

"With step-children educated at Magdalen College School, Helen has personal insight into the school's emphasis on pastoral care and outstanding extra-curricular provision."

Dr Hands will be leaving the school to become headmaster at Winchester College next year.