Exam boards to be asked to take pupils’ trauma into account after headteacher’s murder
Epsom College will ask exam boards and universities to take into account pupils’ trauma in the wake of the murder of their headmistress.
Sir Anthony Seldon, the veteran public school leader who has stepped in to lead the school while a permanent headteacher is found, told a group of parents last week that he plans to discuss the impact of the death of Emma Pattison with Ofqual, the exam regulator, and ask for special consideration for pupils.
He said he wants to get “a shift up on the overall grading” of GCSEs and A Levels.
“If it can be done, we’ll do it,” he told parents at a recorded meeting seen by the Telegraph.
He said that the devastating death of Mrs Pattison, alongside her seven-year-old daughter Lettie, at their home on the school grounds in February, will have “made a difference”, particularly for some pupils.
The £42,000-a-year boarding school in Surrey has already written to universities to make them aware of the trauma suffered by pupils.
“We’re confident that the universities will take that into consideration,” another Epsom College teacher told parents at the meeting.
“I think it might help a little if, let’s say on results day, they have dropped one grade. There may be a little bit of leeway there. But I don’t think it will make an enormous difference to that application.”
Sir Anthony, 69, who has declined to speak publicly since taking over the running of the school on March 1, told parents that pupils and staff are suffering from grief, trauma and shock.
He said: “The children and the staff were having to get used to two things. One is the murder of the headteacher and her daughter, so there was a grief about that.
“And then there was the brutality and the appalling… unbelievable nature of what happened. And so there is both grief and trauma and shock and it’s touched everybody.”
Mrs Pattison, 45, died from “shock and haemorrhage” after being shot in the chest and abdomen while her daughter died from a “shotgun wound to the head”, an inquest heard.
Their bodies were discovered in the early hours of Sunday morning on Feb 5.
It is believed that the head teacher’s husband, George Pattison, 39, a chartered accountant, murdered his wife and child, before taking his own life.
Following their deaths, the school closed early for February half term, so that families could “come together and try to process this shocking news”.
‘We could have been in trouble’
Sir Anthony said it was a “momentous moment” in the school’s history.
“No school in the country has ever before been through anything like that. And if the parents were not rock solid, understanding, respectful, supportive, we could have been in trouble.”
He added: “Every single member of staff and indeed the student body have also been really exceptional in going through something that you wouldn’t want any young people ever to go through. And we’ve gone through and it’s going to take months, years indeed, to fully process what’s happened. Some obviously [are] more affected by it than others. But no one is unaffected, no one is unscarred by what happened.”
He said his three immediate objectives are to get the school to “calm down” and “move on”, to ensure that A Level and GCSE results this summer are “as good as they can be”, and to ensure that “reputationally in terms of numbers, the school doesn’t suffer any hit as some schools that go through extreme trauma can very easily do”.
He paid tribute to Mrs Pattison, who he said was “one of the great heads of the country” and “an extraordinary person and leader”. He said he wanted to build on her legacy, including her values of “kindness, integrity and ambition”.
Sir Anthony, a political biographer, is a former headmaster of Brighton College in East Sussex and Wellington College in Berkshire.
He said he was asked to step in as headteacher by Dr Alastair Wells, Epsom’s chair of governors.
“It seemed just an obvious thing to respond to need,” he told parents.
Sir Anthony, whose book on Boris Johnson’s premiership is due to be released in May, has agreed to postpone writing further books to focus on leading the school for 18 months. A new headteacher will take over in September 2024.
Dr Wells said: “The response from parents and staff to the arrival of Anthony Seldon as head following the tragedy has been overwhelming. They are delighted to have such a calm and experienced leader at the helm at such a time. Holding confidential briefings for parents in his first four weeks has been one of his key strategies.”