‘Muni’ survives legal ruling

The school building at Westwood, originally called the Municipal School, the building today is known as The Westwood Campus of Yorkshire Coast College
The school building at Westwood, originally called the Municipal School, the building today is known as The Westwood Campus of Yorkshire Coast College

Written by Dr Jack Binns

The Scarborough School Board was one of the most active, progressive and ambitious of its kind in the whole country. Long before Mundella’s Act of 1881 required all children to attend school up to the age of 10, Scarborough already employed a school attendance officer to bring as many local children as possible into its new Board schools. And even as early as the 1870s Scarborough’s Board schools were offering science, navigation and practical cookery, not just the three Rs, to the youngsters of the town. In the words of one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors: “The School Board of the Borough of Scarborough continues to meet all demands in a liberal spirit”. By 1878 fewer than 50 resident children of school age had not been registered at one of the borough’s schools, Board or voluntary.

Not content merely to provide classes for 12-year-olds when the school-leaving age was still only 11, in 1897 a newly-elected School Board approved a plan to build a separate school “for upper standards” or “higher grades”. This was an astonishing step forward for a community with only 38,161 residents at the 1901 census. Only the School Boards of county borough councils such as Manchester, Birmingham and London, had set up secondary schools.

Indeed, what was to be the Municipal School, which opened at Westwood in 1900, was illegal! According to the clear terms of the Education Act of 1870, the elected School Boards were authorised to levy a rate for elementary education only: they did not have the power to provide secondary schooling.

When the issue of the legal competence of the School Boards was considered in 1900, the so-called Cockerton Judgement ruled against Scarborough’s new school at Westwood. The classes for Standard VII and pupil teachers of 336 boys and girls could therefore not be run by the School Board or financed by a school rate.

Fortunately, Scarborough’s Town Hall lawyers found a solution. If Westwood could not be a legal Board school then it might be registered as “an organized science school” under the jurisdiction of the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 and the care of the municipal corporation. So in this roundabout way, in 1901, it became the Municipal School, or unofficially, as locals preferred, the “Muni”.

However, the following year, in 1902, Balfour’s Education Act abolished the School Boards and made county councils everywhere responsible for secondary schools. Normally, the Muni would have become a county grammar school, but wisely the North Riding’s county education committee delegated control of all Scarborough’s schools to its borough council. So Westwood came to be managed by the same men and financed by the same ratepayers who had built and paid for it in the first place.

The Muni remained the Muni.

So Scarborough’s own higher grade school survived in its handsome, spacious and well-equipped building on Plantation Hill. Of the original architect’s plan, only the basement swimming pool and the caretaker’s house in the grounds did not materialise. In one block, on three different levels, there were basement gymnasium, laundry, two dining rooms and a joiner’s shop with 40 benches; on the main ground floor, an assembly hall, library and 12 classrooms; and on the top floor, physics and chemical laboratories, art room and two staff rooms, for male and female teachers. For its time and place, the Muni was an amazing achievement of bold foresight and imaginative enterprise. No borough in the country of comparable size could match it. The twentieth century had scarcely begun, but Scarborough was already in the vanguard of educational innovation.

Like St Martin’s on the opposite side of the Valley, the Municipal School had powerful and influential sponsors. From 1902 until 1908, it benefited from the active support of Sir Arthur Dyke Acland, formerly Gladstone’s education minister, who had retired to Scarborough. As chairman of the North Riding’s Higher Education sub-committee, it had been Acland who had insisted that the town retain the right to control its own school.

Some measure of the Muni’s strength can be gauged by the names of the chief guests who attended its first speech and prize presentation day in January 1903. Acland delivered the main speech and gave out the prizes. Also on the platform that day were the chairman of the North Riding education committee, the vice-chancellor of Liverpool university, the high master of Manchester Grammar School and, not least, Sir Michael Sadler, once civil service head of the education department in London.

During its short, distinguished life the Muni had two outstanding heads, AS Tetley (1902-16) and DW Bevan (1916-22). Arthur Tetley had a first-class Cambridge Classics degree, previous experience of mixed, secondary schooling and a broad range of personal interests in music, mountaineering and field nature. Under his guidance, the Muni soon had a variety of traditional institutions – the annual open and speech days, a school 
magazine, an old scholars’ club and several societies.

In 1910 the inspectors praised the school for its many flourishing activities outside the classroom curriculum:

“Among the various activities which help to develop a good tone and a vigorous school life are the Literary and Debating Society which has been in existence for many years and is very successful; a French Club of some 35 of the senior pupils who meet fortnightly and have discussions on various topics in French; the Natural History Society, which not only holds meetings and excursions but arranges a series of public lectures each winter which are much appreciated in the town; the Dramatic Society, Rambling Club...”

In those days, the lack of an adjacent sports field was not considered a serious handicap: after all, there 
was plenty of open, bracing space on the top of Oliver’s Mount!