Britain’s oldest school which charges £14,830 per term appoints its first female headteacher – after 1,425 years of men holding the position

Posted: 14th August 2023

The UK’s oldest school has appointed its first female head teacher – after 1,425 years of only men holding the position.

Jude Lowson will begin at The King’s School, Canterbury, in September, whose ex-pupils include David Gower, Michael Morpurgo and Christopher Marlowe.

The school was founded in 597 AD by the first Archbishop of Canterbury and sits in the precincts of the city’s famous Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The first girls were admitted to the sixth form in the 1970s after more than 1,400 years of just taking boys, before becoming fully co-educational in 1990.

Now the school, where boarding fees set parents back an eye-watering £14,830 per term, has begun a new chapter in its history by employing its first female head.

Speaking about her new position, Ms Lowson said it was a privilege to take the reigns at one of the world’s oldest schools and to live in such a historic location.

She said: ‘I was not sure what it would be like to live in the precincts of the Cathedral.

‘I had a few questions about how I even get my car in, use the one-way system in Canterbury and if you can get Deliveroo inside the precincts.

‘But I have been struck by living in such an amazing place. On one side of my house, I have this incredible vista of the Cathedral.

‘I am surrounded by tourists who have travelled thousands of miles to see it and I have it there every morning.

‘You have this privileged position where you sometimes have it to yourself.’

Mr Lowson grew up in South London and attended local state primary schools before her parents moved to Belgium.

When she returned to the UK, aged 13, she boarded at Sevenoaks School before studying History at the University of Cambridge.

Before her impressive career in education, Ms Lowson worked in advertising at the worldwide agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

However, the call to teach proved stronger than her desire to pursue a lifelong career in the industry.

She said: ‘I had the sense as I was selling KFC to people that perhaps there was more to life than that and I could do something of more positive impact.

‘Teaching felt like a natural way to bring together so much I love.’

Ms Lowson has previously been deputy head at Putney High, having started her teaching career at Whitgift School in Croydon.

The King’s School also has a junior school and international college with 1,300 pupils attending them, 70% of which are registered as boarders.

But Ms Lowson said she is keen to expand bursary provision, which 65 pupils are already on.

She said: ‘I would love us to be doing more of these programmes, involving more schools to feel they can work with King’s and for us to feel we are having a positive impact on our local community.

‘That is of crucial importance for me and I see so many benefits of that kind of work.’

Ms Lowson celebrates the need for independent schools in the 21st century and said she was upset by attempts to place the public and private sectors in conflict.

She said: ‘I am sometimes saddened by the debate surrounding independent schools.

‘It seeks to pit the two parts of the sector against each other but there is much we can learn from each other.

‘I think there are myths about how independent schools operate.

‘For example, independent schools do an awful lot of sharing their resources with local communities.

‘For so many schools, that desire to be accessible and to bring pupils in who will benefit from that education is a core element of what so many independent schools are trying to do.’

She argues there are ‘slightly fewer constraints’ on private schools compared to their state counterparts, enabling them to ‘offer subjects that are squeezed elsewhere’.

She added ‘A great example of that is you see the creative arts championed in independent schools and that is being squeezed [in state schools] sadly but, to an extent, understandably.

‘There is also no choice of modern languages in some state schools.’

Announcing Ms Lowson as headteacher, King’s School issued a statement that she would bring a ‘fresh and modern outlook’.

She said: ‘It is a balancing act and it would be easy to say there is perhaps a conflict between a school which values heritage and tradition and one which is modern and forward-thinking.

‘I honestly do not think so and I think it is the opposite.

‘School is about finding out who you are, who you want to be and where you are going but also about finding your place in the world and how you can contribute positively.

‘Those are skills young people need for their future lives.

‘Being in a place which gives a strong sense of your place and values and enabling you to feel supported, to develop self-belief and raise your ambition – those are all things that happen as a result of the history, heritage and connection to the cathedral.’

Source: Britain’s oldest school which charges £14,830 per term appoints its first female headteacher – after 1,425 years of men holding the position (

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