Emma Pattison, head of Epsom College was ‘absolutely loving her time’ before tragic death
Only two months ago, Emma Pattison, the first female head of Epsom College, was telling pupils how excited she was about the year ahead.
“There is so much to come,” she told pupils on the school’s podcast, Epsom Insight, saying she was looking forward to experiencing school traditions such as Founder’s Day, where parents and alumni enjoy picnics, cricket and house sports competitions, the annual pancake race and prize giving.
“I am absolutely loving my time here so far,” she said shortly before Christmas. “It has been very, very busy, but absolutely wonderful.”
The only indication of any difficulty was that the move had put pressure 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.”
The discovery of her body in the early hours of Sunday morning, alongside her husband, George, and their seven-year-old daughter, Lettie, has left the school community shaken and devastated.
Pupils are understood to have been crying and terrified last night at the prospect of returning to the school grounds that they will share with a significant police presence over the coming days.
Mrs Pattison, 45, who was born in Lincoln, spoke passionately about her love of teaching, learning and working with young people. Her mother was also a teacher who she has described as a role model.
She started her career on Thomas Cook’s graduate training programme, expecting to be able to travel the world after graduating from the University of Leeds with a BA Hons in French and English Literature.
However, she said she found herself working in Bromley, south east London, which was not “quite the sparkly lights of where I’d imagined I’d end up”.
One rainy morning, she said she found a copy of an education trade magazine in a coffee shop which helped her recall her experiences teaching English in France and Spain, which she had “loved”.
“I thought, why am I doing something I absolutely hate? This is much more fun.”
She added: “I wasn’t actually that motivated by making money for a corporate entity… Working with young people, they keep you young, they keep you happy, they keep you energised.”
Her teaching career began in 2002 at Lutterworth College, a state school in Harborough, South Leicestershire, where she taught French and Spanish. In 2005, she joined Caterham School, a private, co-educational day and boarding school in Surrey, where she also taught French and Spanish and became Head of Year 8. From there, she went to Guildford High School, a top-performing independent girls’ day school, where she was Head of Modern Foreign Languages for four years.
She married Mr Pattison, a chartered accountant, in around 2011.
In 2012, she moved to St John’s School, Leatherhead, where she rose to Deputy Head in 2013. Three years later, she was appointed to her first Headship at Croydon High School, an independent school for girls in south London.
She said she “absolutely loved her first headship” at Croydon, where she was widely respected. However, she decided that after learning so much there, she wanted to “use that knowledge and skill and apply it to something different”.
“I’m someone that likes to feel I’m moving forwards,” she told pupils on the school podcast. “I like planning, I like strategy, and I suppose the scope of the College here is a little bigger than I’ve had before, and I found that an exciting prospect.”
During the application process to take over as head of Epsom College, she taught a 30-minute Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) lesson on a topic of her choice: “identity”.
Announcing her appointment last year, Chairman of the Board of Governors, Dr Alastair Wells, said that the lesson “was of such outstanding quality it concluded with spontaneous applause from pupils.”
Commenting on her appointment in January 2022, Mrs Pattison said: “It is a school I have long admired, with an enviable reputation, and George and I can’t wait to meet the pupils, parents and staff and to become part of this wonderful community… It is our intention to make our home and our school equally as welcoming in the months and years to come.”
At Epsom, she had started setting up an advisory group of people in industry from different sectors to advise on the skills that pupils will need in the future.
“I think that the world that you are going to work and live in and lead in is going to be a very different one to the one when you entered the College,” she told older pupils.
She said she also wanted the different boarding houses to do more projects and social activities together.
In her free time, she said she enjoyed travelling and that the family often went to France. She also loved reading and music, playing the piano and singing. She described herself as a “life-long learner”, someone who “just always wants to grow and learn and explore and live life to the fullest”.
The school community who knew Emma has paid tribute to her this morning.
Croydon High School said that the whole "community are immensely shocked and saddened by the news" of their deaths.
A spokesman said: "Emma was a hugely respected and much loved Head of Croydon High. She was a warm energetic compassionate leader, dedicated teacher and generous, insightful colleague and friend.
"Our deepest condolences are with her family and close friends and all at Epsom College."
Cheryl Giovannoni, chief executive of the Girls' Day School Trust (GDST), said: "We are immensely shocked and saddened by the news about the death of Emma Pattison, her daughter, Lettie, and her husband, George. Our thoughts are with their family at this time, as well as everyone at Croydon High School, and Epsom College, which Emma joined as Head in September 2022.
"Emma was a much loved and respected member of the GDST community, as well as a talented Head and teacher, and a dear friend to many of us. She 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.
“We are taking time to support staff and students at Croydon High School as well as everyone in the GDST family, and their wellbeing will be our priority in the coming days."
Simon Hyde, general secretary of the Head’s Conference (HMC), which represents Britain’s major public schools, said: "Everyone at HMC is devastated to hear of the awful news from Epsom College that we have lost Emma Pattison and her family. Our thoughts and prayers at this time are for Emma’s family and close friends as well as the Epsom College, Croydon High School and St John’s Leatherhead communities.”