Comprehensive school pioneer Kathleen Mitchell dies age 100

Janet Downs's picture

Kathleen Mitchell, champion of comprehensive schools and social education, died on 22 May 2017.  She was aged 100.

Kathleen didn’t start out as a teacher but began her working life as a clerk with the London County Council.  She abandoned clerical work and attended Birkbeck before moving into teaching.

Kathleen was a passionate advocate of the comprehensive ideal.  In the 1960s she became head of Starcross Comprehensive School in Islingon (later amalgamated with other schools to become the Elizabeth Garret Anderson School).  The Evening Standard (20 March 1975) described her vision:

‘…the right sort of education is a liberal and creative one in which children can learn to care about other people and take a critical look at the world around them.  And she’s quite convinced that you can’t do this by authoritarian methods’.

The Standard stressed this didn’t make Kathleen lax on discipline: ‘…strictures are important for children.  They’ve got to know where to go in an organised way.’

Sir Edward Boyle, former Conservative education minister, spoke at the school’s first annual prizegiving in 1965*.  He used the occasion to explain why he supported comprehensive education.  It was a stance that had cost him his job.

Kathleen’s passion was developing music, art and creative subjects in schools.  Her husband, Donald Mitchell, was a well-known music critic and the couple were close friends of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, the Brtten-Pears Foundation explains.   After Kathleen became head of Pimlico School in 1974, Britten planned to write a music piece, A Christmas Sequence’ to be performed at the school.  Unfortunately, the project was not completed but is testament to Kathleen’s belief that high-quality music and art were central in children’s lives. 

Roy Blatchford CBE, founder of the National Education Trust, was appointed by Kathleen at Pimlico School in 1977.  In his book The Restless School, Blatchford writes how Pimlico had become ‘a sort of free Yehudi Menuhin School’ for gifted musicians.

Kathleen pre-deceased her husband who is now living in a residential home in Camden.

*Newspaper article available here.  Scroll down for report entitled ‘Social education: Helping girls face the adult world’.

 CORRECTION 25 June 2017 09.55.  The original article said Roy Blatchford 'was a middle leader at Pimlico School in the 1980s shortly after Kathleen left in 1979.'    Roy was actually appointed by Kathlen Mitchell in 1977 (see comment below).  The article has been corrected.


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Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 24/06/2017 - 17:59

We have been asked to post the following comment from Roy Blatchford who worked with Kathleen:

"Thank you for this celebration of the great educator Kathleen Mitchell. Slightly correcting the text, I was appointed by Kathlen Mitchell in 1977. I worked with her for two years striving to champion Inner London comprehensive education, at times against the odds. There are many students whom I taught, now in their fifties, who could testify to the values and spirit of Pimlico School which Kathleen created. Roy Blatchford, Pimlico School 1977-82."

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