Obituary: Dame Joyce Bishop

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The Independent Online
Margaret Joyce Bishop, headmistress: born Birmingham 28 July 1896; English Mistress, Hertfordshire and Essex High School 1918-24; Head Mistress, Holly Lodge High School, Smethwick 1924-35; Head Mistress, Godolphin and Latymer School 1935-63; President, Association of Headmistresses, 1950-52; CBE 1953, DBE 1963; died 7 June 1993.

JOYCE BISHOP was one of the great headmistresses, a woman of vision and courage, integrity and understanding.

As early as 1924, aged only 27, she was appointed to the headship of Holly Lodge, a new high school in Smethwick, Staffordshire, at that time one of the worst slums in the country; there she pioneered, in her own words, 'a wonderful experiment in free secondary education for the girls who could profit from it' anticipating by 20 years the Butler Education Act. She always cared passionately for the education of girls and was proud of the fact that her school was started five years before the local boys' school.

It was to counter the effects of grinding poverty on so many of her pupils in Smethwick that Joyce Bishop started to compaign for maintenance grants and free school dinners; she realised, long before the introduction of the Welfare State, that a school could not remain isolated from its local community, for it had a duty to care for the physical as well as the moral and mental well-being of its pupils. This combination of sensitive compassion with practical common sense was to be a strong characteristic all her life.

Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, west London, to which Joyce Bishop moved as Head Mistress in 1935, was very different from Holly Lodge: well-established, with a sound tradition of scholarship, it was fee-paying, although 40 per cent of its pupils were on London County Council Scholarships. Bishop could now devote more of her energy to planning and implementing projects; she was already a highly respected headmistress when in 1939 came the war causing some 400 children and all the staff of the school to leave London on what she called 'the unknown adventure of evacuation'. Her own account of the school's four- year stay in Newbury demonstrated her understanding of the often unspoken worries of children and parents; it also highlights her own courage, determination and sheer grit in the face of difficulties caused not so much by Hitler as by apathetic and obstructive officialdom. She had always, she claimed, been allergic to red tape. Now she learnt to fight it.

Indeed, throughout her subsequent career, both as Head Mistress of Godolphin and Latymer, and afterwards as Supervisory Tutor at King's College London, she fought valiantly for what she believed was right: in arguing against the Labour government's plans to enforce a system of comprehensive education in 1965, Bishop passionately defended the grammar school and the independence of the governing body.

Joyce Bishop was first and foremost a headmistress: during her 28 years there she moulded, guided and developed her beloved Godolphin and Latymer so that it became one of the finest schools in the country with an international reputation not only for its high educational standards but also for its strength as a friendly and supportive community. After her retirement in 1965, she watched its continued progress with satisfaction and pride.

I first met Miss Bishop in 1954 when, as a young married woman with an eight-month-old baby, I had the temerity to apply for a part-time Classics post at G & L, as the school is affectionately called. She was sitting in her study, one small dog on her lap, another by her side; she was as always immaculately groomed. Turning her piercing blue eyes on me, she enquired - a natural question in those days - why I wanted to work when I had a baby to look after and what arrangement I was proposing to make for his proper care while I was away from home. Fortunately my answer satisfied her and I was appointed to her staff.

Ever afterwards she claimed, with a benevolent twinkle in those blue eyes, that the decisive factor in my appointment had been the elegance of my long-handled umbrella. It was not until years later that I realised her strong commitment to the recruitment of young married women teachers, which led to one of her most dramatic and far-sighted crusades in the Fifties and Sixties.

Joyce Bishop, appointed CBE in 1953 and advanced DBE in 1963, was for decades an authoritative public figure whose good sense and judgment were highly valued not only by parents and teachers but also by university vice-chancellors and successive ministers and secretaries of state.

She was Chairman of the Association of Headmistresses in 1950, the UK delegate to two Unesco Conferences in 1954, a member of the University Grants Committee 1961-63, chairman of the Governing Body of the National Froebel Association for 11 years and a Governor of the Royal Ballet School for over 30.

She loved entertaining and was a most generous hostess at her house in Putney where, for 50 years, she was devotedly cared for by her friend and housekeeper Elizabeth Ellett.

Although her sight and hearing deteriorated towards the end, Joyce Bishop never lost her zest for life. Her strong Christian faith was rooted in the secure and happy family life she had enjoyed as a child and in her abiding love of the language of the Authorised Version of the Bible. She loved her own dogs and cats, but most of all she loved her friends, her pupils and her associates.

(Photograph omitted)