Born as Helen Pitt in Enfield, Middlesex, she attended Enfield Grammar School and Manchester University and earned a teaching diploma at Roehampton University. Later she earned her Master's in Economic History at the London School of Economics (LSE). In 1968 she married David Metcalf, a fellow student at Manchester University, and later a Professor of Economics at the LSE; they had one child, a son, Tom.
Among the schools at which she taught were Dame Alice Owens[when?]; Islington Green Comprehensive (1974-82); and Acland Burghley Comprehensive (1982-88). She took a hiatus from teaching after being elected as a Labour councillor in Islington in 1971. She resigned in 1978 and returned to teaching. She was named as headteacher at Chiswick Community School.
For most of her time as head of the Chiswick Community School (1988–2001) she was ill, battling the breast cancer which had been initially diagnosed in 1991. She died in 2003, aged 57, in London. In recognition of her achievements, Helen Metcalf was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her "services to education" in 1998.
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