Selection comes to an end

Model of the new building for the High School for Boys on Woodlands Drive
Model of the new building for the High School for Boys on Woodlands Drive

On Friday September 23, 1960, the new and final premises of the Scarborough High School for Boys was formally opened by Lord James of Rusholme, high master of Manchester Grammar School. Also present was Henry Marsden, who had been head at Scarborough for 30 years and was now entering his last, and Miss Woods, who had been headmistress of the Girls’ High School at Sandybed since 1946. Three proud county councillors made speeches and the Bishop of Hull said prayers.

The new high school on Woodlands Drive had been built for 700 boys and, to compensate for its failure to give Scarborough a secondary technical school, the North Riding decided that it would function as both grammar and technical combined.

Accordingly, the new building had four detached engineering and handicraft workshops as well as 23 classrooms, two art and craft rooms, a semi-detached wing of seven science laboratories, library, a separate gymnasium, staff room, kitchen and assembly hall, all set in 14 acres of ill-drained playing fields. The contract sum for the whole lot was £236,174 and furniture and equipment cost an extra £24,000.

When Nikolaus Pevsner, the eminent architectural historian, visited Scarborough in 1965 to include it in the North Riding volume of his Buildings of England series, he was particularly impressed by a number of its educational homes. The new Technical College on Lady Edith’s Drive (1958-64) was “an excellent job”; the older Muni at Westwood was “large but friendly”; and the Boys’ High (1958-60), with its “low-pitched roofs” in the main block and adjoining parts was “somewhat mannered though a fashion”.

As an architect interested mainly in exteriors, Pevsner neglected to refer to any of the new school’s extraordinary features and facilities which made it so pleasing – its water-filled moat, plate-glass windows, open staircases, parquet wooden floors – and not least its superb position with panoramic views out to the North Sea.

Miss Woods was present at the official opening because her 1939 red-brick school, built, it seemed, to withstand a siege, had just been treated to extensions costing altogether nearly £25,000. The reason for this was the Girls’ High School had to be raised to the minimum standards of the Education Act of 1944 for her 400 girls, 300 places fewer than the comparable school for boys. So 40 years after the girls and their teachers were unceremoniously “expelled” from the Muni, standards in secondary education were still determined by gender, at least in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

Under Alec Gardiner’s headship the Boys’ High School continued to prosper and grow during the 1960s, though not so quickly in some ways that he would have preferred. Every year he told his “masters” in Northallerton that he had room for more entrants and every year the severe 11+ exam excluded all but one out of every ten when elsewhere in the country grammar school admissions were in some authorities running at three times that proportion. The only North Riding concession was a 12+ extra single form entry.

Since the school-leaving age had been stationary since 1948 at 15, in effect 90 per cent of Scarborough boys were denied the opportunity to qualify for the General Certificate of Education at Ordinary Level normally taken at 16. Mr Gardiner was told the ratepayer could not afford the premium cost of more grammar school places. However, the North Riding county was soon overtaken by the nation. In 1965 the Wilson Labour Government pledged to abolish the Butler tripartite division between grammar, technical and modern and replace it with a comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education for all. To achieve this aim it would be necessary to raise the school-leaving age to 16.

Accordingly, both these educational reforms were carried through in Scarborough at the same time in 1972-3 and the North Riding achieved them at minimal cost by not building any new schools, only extensions to existing ones.

The secondary moderns, Scalby, Raincliffe, Pindar and Filey, became mixed 11 to 16 neighbourhood comprehensives; the Boys’ High School at Woodlands was abolished and its premises became another 11 to 16 comprehensive, the Graham School; and the Girls’ High at Sandybed was replaced by a Sixth Form College. The Graham Sea-Training School at Paradise House was absorbed into the new Graham School along with the junior boys and girls from the defunct high schools. The Catholic hierarchy insisted on retaining their own comprehensive at St Augustine’s. Alec Gardiner was appointed principal of the Sixth Form College and Hilda Briggs took over the Graham School.

Scarborough had gone comprehensive on the cheap, but it was still the most radical reform of its schooling ever carried out. The final demise of all grammar schools (in 1975 the Labour government’s abolition of direct grant status forced the closure of the Catholic girls’ Convent school), the foundation of 11 to 16 comprehensives, all offering access to GCE at Ordinary Level, and a Sixth Form College for post-16-year-old students, altogether marked the end of centuries of selection, first by wealth, latterly by formal entrance examination. Secondary education for all had at last been achieved.

l Next week, Jack Binns starts a new series, Christian Scarborough.