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News > School > Mrs Sheila Wiltshire OBE

Mrs Sheila Wiltshire OBE

11 Feb 2021
School
Sheila Wiltshire (taken in 1990)
Sheila Wiltshire (taken in 1990)

It is with sadness that we announce the death of former Head Mistress Sheila Wiltshire OBE (Head Mistress at Elstree 1979-1991) at home on Sunday 31 January 2021.

There will be a private family funeral on Friday 19 February at Shalford Church near Guildford at 2.30pm and a Memorial Service will be organised in due course.  Anyone wishing to send condolences is requested to write via the School (no emails please).

In all respects Sheila Wiltshire was a first.  The first headmistress at Elstree, the first married woman and the first headmistress of this school who did not come from a traditional teaching background.

Sheila Campbell was born in 1925 in London and was educated at South Hampstead High School.  She graduated from the London School of Economics with a first class degree in Economics.

After a period as a research scholar at Newnham College, Cambridge and as an assistant lecturer at London University she joined the Administrative Civil Service.  Upon return from a year’s sabbatical going around the world with a Nuffield Travelling Fellowship, she was attached to the British Embassy in Rome while working for the United Nations.  She was promoted to Assistant Secretary in 1964 (the same year as her marriage to Geoffrey Wiltshire) and served for several years as full-time Chairman of a Regional Planning Board.  Her experience of working on educational issues in the Civil Service meant that she was approached by the governors of a boarding school and asked if she would be interested in their headship.  After spending a week at the school she declined the offer for family reasons but the experience had whetted her appetite and so when the headship of her old school became vacant in 1969 she accepted.  However, the challenge presented by this school’s move to a new site in Elstree was too great to miss and she became Headmistress in September 1974.

After the first year when she reportedly faced the ‘teething troubles’ of the new buildings, including completion of the swimming pool, and a large number of new staff with ‘calm efficiency’, the next challenge was the demise of the direct grant system of funding school places.  Under the scheme the school had a minimum of 25% non-fee paying pupils whose fees were paid by their local authority.  It chose to become independent in September 1976 and introduce a bursary scheme to give pupils from less privileged homes the opportunity to attend.

It may have been this change to the school’s funding that prompted her to found the St Catherine’s Parents’ Guild which met for the first time in December 1979 led by its inaugural chairman, Keith Payne.  It had two objectives – to foster and further develop a family atmosphere within the school whilst also raising money to provide extra facilities at school.  Just 7 months later the school’s annual Open Day incorporated a fete run by the Guild with the money raised going towards musical instruments and, in particular, a concert grand piano for the new Sime Music School.

Changes to the curriculum included the introduction of economics for the sixth form with the appointment in 1975 of Mrs Kriteman.  In September 1985 a Craft, Design and Technology department was created spearheaded by Miss Stephanie Hadleigh and in 1989 Politics at AS level was begun.

During the final years of her headship, Mrs Wiltshire chaired the organising committee of the four Aske schools for the celebrations to mark the Tercentenary Year of the foundation of the Robert Aske Trust.  In 1990 there were many events including a concert at the Festival Hall, a Newfoundland Scientific Expedition, an art exhibition in Covent Garden, a Sports Day which all culminated in a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral.

When she retired in 1991 she had overseen an increase in pupil numbers from 700 to over 1100 with the Sixth form having doubled in size.   There had been an enormous development in maths and science, particularly in the Sixth Form – from only 13 girls studying physics in 1974, to about 60 in 1991 and that summer a record number of 26 pupils were holding Oxbridge offers.  She was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list and in the same month building work commenced on the Wiltshire Building which would provide a permanent home for the Craft, Design and Technology department plus specialist science rooms for the Lower School.

Her last visit to school was in November 2015 for the opening of the new Dining Room.

 

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