June Ellis, BSc, DipEd, former Headmistress of The Mount School York from 1977 to 1986 passed away on Friday 18 October at the age of 93.
Adrienne Richmond, Principal of The Mount, said, “I was extremely saddened to hear of the death of June Ellis. June Ellis was one of our most loved and most respected Heads and Old Scholars share great memories of the most kind, caring and generous-hearted person. June Ellis was Head at The Mount for nine years and in that time she always put the individual at the heart of all she did. She steered the School successfully in her time, keeping The Mount at the fore of progressive education for girls. We have much to thank June Ellis for.”
Born in Newcastle, June, who was herself a Quaker, had been deputy head at the Friends’ School Sibford, a co-educational Quaker school near Banbury, where she taught Biology for 12 years. She obtained a pure Science degree at Durham University and taught in Darlington, Newcastle and Clacton-on-Sea before moving to Oxfordshire. In Sibford’s farewell to her in 1977, Senior Master Kenneth T Francis wrote, “Sibford pupils may have grumbled at the high standards of personal behaviour she expected of them, but in times of trouble or when needing advice it was to June Ellis that many turned. In both the small things and the large her concern for all girls, boys and Staff was evident. To the Staff June will be remembered as a forthright, hard-working colleague prepared to admonish if standards slipped, but more than generous in her appreciation of hard work. It is fitting that she should crown her career by becoming Headmistress of The Mount.” She joined The Mount in 1977 to succeed Joyce Pickard (nee Blake), who had led the school since 1960.
At the time she joined the school, June was quoted in the local press as being a firm believer in independent schools, saying “I think there is a place for small schools. My reason for being in an independent school is that they are small. I like contact with each child and to know their names. I would accept the need for all girls’ schools like this very strongly.” Her interests were listed as walking, caravaning and listening to music. “I lead a busy life and I believe strongly you must have a life outside school,” she says in the article.
June Ellis entered into The Mount’s school traditions with gusto. Halloween plays, Bonfire Night, Games In The Dark, Christmas Carols, the pantomime and all of the rituals of the school year, through to Old Scholars Weekend, the Strawberry Ball and Leavers’ Supper, were all enjoyed.
She said of her first year at The Mount: “I came with few thoughts of changing anything, but my very presence as a different individual has caused some changes in emphasis, changes which I was the last person to discern. I believe in change only when it is necessary.”
Some of her instigated changes remain to this day. Careers teaching at The Mount became more formalised in June Ellis’ time. The system of personal tutors was introduced in 1980 and for the first time a male teacher became took up the role of Form Tutor. Day girls from the local area were admitted into the school as “day boarders”. June Ellis’ concern was always for the individual and she did much to encourage staff and pupils alike to enjoy life and have fun, while never forgetting the importance of the Quaker ethos. The first post she appointed was a new teacher of German, Wendy Thompson, who is now Head of Careers and currently the longest-serving member of staff.
Probably the biggest change The Mount was to face under her stewardship was entirely beyond June Ellis’ control, when Bootham School began to admit girls. In the early 1980s many boys’ schools were becoming mixed but June Ellis felt it was extremely important for The Mount to remain single-sex.
When she retired in 1986, Nigel Naish Chair of Committee said of June Ellis, “In a decade where feminism has come to the fore she has believed it important to ensure that The Mount continues to prosper as a single sex boarding school to help women and girls fulfil their full potential in society. The success of The Mount and the maintenance of the school reflect her wise leadership and influence.
“By her example, her ability to listen, her realisation of her own fallibility and her sense of humour, she has succeeded in leading The Mount towards becoming a happier and more relaxed community. The Arts have blossomed and flourished in her time here, and her enthusiasm and enjoyment in all things domestic reflects itself in the warm welcome girls of all ages give to visitors to the school.”
June Ellis said herself in 1984 of The Mount that, “The religious life of the school is implicit in its being. Many visitors speak of the good atmosphere at The Mount and ask if it is associated with its Quaker foundation; I believe it is, and that we have something very precious in our silence and worship which many people may not recognise until years after they leave, but which others discover as they journey through the school.”
Former pupils have been paying tribute to June Ellis on The Mount’s Old Scholars’ online forum.
“She was an inspirational head teacher and always encouraged you to be the best version of yourself.” – Claudia
“I still remember her smile.” – Julia
“I was in 5th Year when June started at MSY. We started term on a Wednesday. On the following Sunday after Meeting a few of us were identified as inappropriately giggling. I was summoned to her office and well and truly told off. She told me she would always remember me because I was the first pupil she had cause to admonish and discipline in her career at The Mount. I was absolutely delighted with that accolade I have to say! RIP June Ellis. You will always be remembered with great affection.” – Beverley
“My Head, and how wonderful she was. Will be sadly missed.” – Susie
“Sad news. She was Head during my final three years and despite my constantly being in trouble for a wide variety of misdemeanours, I think she always believed in me.” – Sara
“I will always remember how she nodded and said, “Good night,” to every girl after Evening Reading. It was a bit like saying goodnight to a sort of Quaker queen – even though that’s an oxymoron.” – Claire
“Sorry to hear that! Sad news.” – Polly
Quotes from June Ellis
We know, with varying degrees of acceptance into awareness, our own weaknesses, and there is a tendency to think that others – who seem, on the surface, to be very sure and confident – do not struggle in the way we do. But many of those who appear to cope and be strong and tireless are indeed very different behind their masks. We are all wounded; we all feel inadequate and ashamed; we all struggle. But this is part of the human condition; it draws us together, helps us to find our connectedness. – June Ellis, 1986
The capacity to listen is something which is greatly needed and is an important part of our education, something which has to be worked at constantly. We so easily fall into a pattern of imagining we know what someone else is going to say to us. Sometimes this is the case, but more often than not we have made up our mind, and received a message which may be completely erroneous and precludes a true understanding. We must have all experienced the circumstances in which a child tries to make himself understood and in which we have prejudged what is his meaning. In that case we never meet. There is one occasion which stands out very clearly in my life when a youngster kept coming up to me and I answered what I thought the question was going to be; at the end of a week she stood resolutely between me and the door clutching a piece of paper asking if she could discontinue my lessons. All that time I had been answering an unasked question and missing the point of contact. This is something which most of us do all too often in one way or another: we have a duty to try to help each other to communicate. We must endeavour to meet each other’s minds and we must attempt to achieve not only sympathy but empathy. – June Ellis, 1981
Among Friends: The Story of The Mount School York by Sarah Sheils, James&James 2007
The Mount School’s Foundation Weekend, The York Press, 15 May 2009
Sibford Old Scholars Association