A LONG-SERVING York headmistress who played a major part in shaping the modern school examination system has died.

Irene Whittaker, originally from Lancashire, passed away on Tuesday, aged 86.

She became head of York’s Queen Anne Grammar School in 1960, and during her 25-year career in York, oversaw the expansion of the school and in the 1980s, its changeover from grammar school to comprehensive.

As co-chairman of the Joint Council for National Criteria for the GCSE exam, she was a driving force behind the design of the 16-plus examination, which was introduced to schools in 1986.

Miss Whittaker was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1984 for her outstanding contribution to the development of school examinations.

When Queen Anne School was closed and the property sold to neighbouring St Peter’s School in 2000, Miss Whittaker helped run a trust which raised £15,000 for teenage pupils in York.

After being appointed a justice of the peace in 1972, Miss Whittaker gave judgement over thousands of cases over 23 years at York Magistrates’ Court, and was a member of its betting, gambling and licensing committee, and its family panel.

After her retirement in 1985, she went mountain climbing, travelling to Kilimanjaro, the Himalayas and the Andes.

She then became a lay pastoral assistant for Acomb, helping to run the parish, and studied towards an MA in theology.

More recently, she had spent time volunteering with the Samaritans, and also helping to raise awareness of aid projects in Ethiopia.