Headteacher of top Hampshire private school Pilgrims’ leaves after only two years

THE headteacher of Pilgrims’ School has left after only two years, the Chronicle can reveal.

Dr Sarah Essex was the first female head of the preparatory school which traces its history back to schools in Anglo-Saxon times.

Dr Essex, who has a background in management consultancy, replaced Tom Burden who left in 2020 to retrain as a priest having been head for seven years.

The reasons for her departure were unclear but one well-placed source told the Chronicle that she failed to establish strong relationships with many parents.

The school website now lists Alistair Duncan as the ‘interim head’, but no further detail is given.

The prep school for boys aged four to 13 years has been approached for comment but term ended in early July and no-one has replied.

Cheyney Court: traditionally the home of the headteacher of Pilgrims’ School

Parents were told about Dr Essex’s departure in an email close to the end of term. She is believed to have been on sick leave for some time. She was unavailable for comment.

Pilgrims’ is famous for its musical tradition with a number of pupils singing with the Winchester Cathedral Choir and the Winchester College Chapel Choir. Until September 2021 the chairman of governors was the Dean of Winchester, the Very Rev Catherine Ogle.

READ MORE: Winchester College appoints its first female head Ms Elizabeth Stone to succeed Dr Tim Hands

Former pupils of Pilgrims’ include former Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow and comedian Jack Dee.

Annual fees for day boys are between £12,210 to £21,276. Boarders pay £27,108 a year.

The Good Schools Guide said Dr Essex got a first class honours degree from Cambridge in natural sciences and a PhD in theoretical inorganic chemistry. She was a senior partner, director and chief financial officer of several international strategy consulting firms. At 45 years of age she retrained as a teacher. “Everyone thought I was a little mad,” she told the guide.

Cheyney Court, the house next to the school and the gateway to the Inner Close, is standing empty. Traditionally it has been the home of Pilgrims’ headteachers. The Chronicle has been told that Dr Essex never lived there.

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