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History of Sutton Coldfield Girls' School 1929-1999

by Grace Whitehouse

1929-1939

The School opened on the 18 th September 1929, after more than 20 years of petitioning for it, on the site of The Beeches with 6 1 / 2 acres of land. The Foundation Address was given by the Countess of Warwick. Plans were made for a building to house 30 pupils increasing to 520. The local authority set aside £6,250 for capital expenditure and a special local rate of 1 / 2 d was levied from 1928 - 1938. Further finance was obtained from Warwickshire County Rates, government grants and fees of £11 guineas a year.

Miss Kathleen Bradley, M.A. who was appointed Head mistress brought with her great experience, a pioneering spirit and a good organising ability.

Staff interviews were held, seven teachers taken on - all female - with resignations on marriage. The building was only half finished but high standards were established.

Four houses were set up - Nevil, Tudor, Vesey and Warwick , blue, red, green and white sashes respectively. The County Council provided bicycles for those who travelled more than 5 miles and Miss Bradley designed the Jockey Cap. Freda M. Merrin was the first Head girl.

1931 saw the first issue of the "Cynosure" with the familiar Tudor Rose drawn on the front. On re-reading these early poems and short stories, one marvels at the wonderful wealth of talent that lay inside these young pupils.

In 1932 nine and a half acres in Monmouth Drive were leased from the Sutton Town Hall for a sports field, the library was furnished with 1,280 books and many groups were formed: field club, dramatics, debating and the French society. The second quad was built and the statue in it was donated by Mr Bunch, the County Architect for Warwick.

Foundation days on the 30 th January were usually celebrated by an evening of speeches and music in the Town Hall. A copper beech tree was planted in the School grounds to commemorate the Coronation of King George in 1937.

Many holidays and camping expeditions were arranged before 1939. It is also to be noted that in 1939 a bill from Miss Germaines' in the High Street for the complete brown school uniform, including blazer, raincoat and shoes was £5. 3s.10d.

Sport was a feature of the School, and included Hockey, Netball, Tennis and Rounders. Senior and Junior teams were involved; matches arranged with other schools and inter house matches caused fierce rivalry.

Jean M. Jager composed the music for the school song "Beauty" by John Mansfield. Mrs Jager (Hunt) was one of the first teachers to be engaged by the School; tragically she died leaving a husband and a week old baby in 1933.

Miss Doris Burchill 1939 - 46

The extensions to the building were finished in 1939. The new Headmistress, Miss Burchill was determined that the war should affect school life as little as possible, and this was achieved remarkably well. Uniform rules were still observed and shortages never made onerous.

Air raid shelters were constructed round the grounds. The interiors were damp and cramped. Gas masks were carried at all times. All equipment was soon in short supply - each pupil was allocated one pencil per term. Several popular farming holidays were arranged each summer during the War, harvesting, fruit gathering, flax bundling and even looking after cattle when the local Home Guard staged an overnight mock invasion. Other war work included helping in W.V.S. canteens, naming ration books, collecting salvage, training in the St. John's Ambulance Brigade and serving meals in the Cottage Hospital.

The whole School adopted the minesweeper "Nelson" and sent the crew knitted comforts, cakes and games. Outside visits were curtailed but the choir, orchestra and dramatic society played at House festivals. The staff gave a memorable public production of the "Ghost Train" and the girls performed in Karel Kapeks' "Insect Play"; both events raised over £100 for the red cross. All of those memorable experiences were concluded by a victory Fete and gala held in July 1946.

Through her friendship with Epstein, Miss Burchell secured the loan of one of his sculptures which remained in the entrance hall for many years. When Miss Burchell left to become Head of a London school, she was described as fearless, tenacious and of ebullient sense of humour; all qualities which were invaluable in war time.

Miss Mary Rothwell M.A. 1947 - 54

These years saw wider ranges of training becoming available and more culture was introduced. All age groups attended local theatrical performances including ballet and modern dance. There were visits to Cambridge for classical plays and, on one occasion, arriving back at school at midnight due to icy roads caused much consternation to the waiting parents.

Societies formed and flourished; music society, orchestra, history and scientific and in 1947 the Christian Union was founded. In 1952 the choir won a silver rose bowl at the Tamworth Musical festival. A hugely successful pantomime was staged "The Little Brown Blazer".

In 1950 Miss Brain, the Games Mistress, gained a place in the English hockey team and seven pupils represented Warwickshire in the All England Sports. The P.T.A founded and staffed the Tudor Swimming Club in 1953 and their orange clad formation team was invited to take part in the opening of Sutton Coldfield's first swimming baths in 1971.

In 1953 to celebrate the Queen's Coronation in June, a second copper beech tree was planted and each girl was given a blue glass bearing the Royal arms.

During these years several overseas holidays were arranged by staff and enjoyed by many pupils.

Dr. Muriel Lister 1954 - 1972

Dr. Lister maintained the school's high academic record which was above the national average. A new domestic science room was added with classrooms above. A new eight house system was introduced and these took the names of famous Sutton families: Aden , Compton , Dugdale, Fairfax , Greville, Harman and Verney.

In 1956 a school team won "Top of the Form" on radio and in 1965 the girls won the television version of the quiz, becoming the only Girls' Grammar School in the country to achieve this double victory.

Many theatrical plays were performed of a very high standard and many cultural, geographical, natural science courses, and frequent holidays abroad were arranged. An excellent operatic performance of "Hiawatha" was staged in the Quad with full American Indian costumes.

The music society was very active in the 60's and 70's and both choirs and orchestra developed. In the 1960's Ruth Williams gained scholarships to both Girton College , Cambridge and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. This warranted a day's holiday for the School.

The Old Girls' Association disappeared during these years and the Cynosure ceased publication in 1966.

The Parents' Association continued with their excellent support for the School.

Mrs Patricia Wilmot 1973 - 1983

Mrs Wilmot was the Classics teacher who had been Deputy Head. 1973 was the year in which the first 12 plus intake was admitted. A more relaxed approach to uniform and school rules arrived.

By 1974 the school was under the Birmingham Education Authority and had to become comprehensive in 1975. Gym slips were finally replaced by blouses and skirts. In 1977 Miss Burchell died after gaining the C.B.E. in 1974 for her reconstruction and reorganisation of Camden High School for Girls. A tree was planted to commemorate the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

In 1979 a new block for humanities was built together with a new biology laboratory and new changing rooms whilst the library was extended.

When the Conservative government was elected many years of wrangling ensued to try to revert the school to Grammar Status. The story reached the national press and by 1979 the parents were allowed to vote on the issue, by an overwhelming majority Grammar status was restored in May 1980.

The School's Golden Jubilee was celebrated in September 1979. The main event spanned two days and many Old Girls used the spiral staircase with trepidation. The first new generation of selective intakes arrived in September 1981.

Mrs Wilmot retired in 1983 after 29 years service in the school.

Mrs Jennifer J. Jones - 1983

The years since 1983 have been of almost uninterrupted change against a backcloth of continuing traditions, although sadly, during the years since 1983, Mrs Patricia Wilmot (Headmistress from 1973 - 1983 and teacher from 1954 - 1983) and Mr Peter Leech (Deputy Head teacher from 1973 - 1994) have died. They are warmly remembered for their generous and loyal commitment to the school.

Industrial action in the early 80's had a major impact on activities in this school as in all others. It led on to the introduction of GCSE examinations, the 1988 Education Act, the delegation of budgets to schools and the introduction of the national Curriculum. During this period the school became wholly selective again in September 1986, celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 1989, relaunched the Old Girls' Association in 1990, and throughout, maintained its reputation for wide ranging extra-curricular activities and for excellent academic standards. Our results published annually are amongst the leaders in yet another development - the national league tables. Almost all Sixth Form students progress to degree courses at University and then on to an ever broadening range of careers.

Following the change in the age of admission in 1992 after 20 years of admitting 12 year old girls, the school population increased by 150 but has now reached a total of 990 following continued growth of the Sixth Form to 232. Pupils are now admitted from the whole City of Birmingham and from even further afield; the school no longer draws simply from Sutton Coldfield but encompasses the whole multi-cultural population of which we are a part. More staff have been appointed and the community on the site each day totals almost 1100 people. The buildings have increased in size, initially by the addition of the two storey Courtyard block spanning the quadrangle and linked by the foyer to the Assembly Hall. The two main gateways have been widened, the cloakrooms have been modified providing small study rooms for the Sixth Form and a fitness suite, whilst the library has been transformed and is suitably known as the Millennium library. It includes the Wilmot CD Rom suite, a development allied to the rapid expansion of computer provision throughout the school. Specialist suites at the extremities together with hardware in most departments link with each other and the library forming an extensive network.

The curriculum has changed over the years but most of the changes for us have been associated with the manner of its delivery and the need for more space. The introduction of Technology presented problems but despite these we have had great success.

The everyday aspects of the school have not been neglected, reflected by almost complete redecoration both inside and out, refurbishment of the 1929 toilet block near the dining room and the rebuilding of two of the netball/tennis courts. Legacies from Mrs Pat Wilmot and Mrs Kitty Morris have helped us finance some of the work, the Sutton Coldfield Municipal Charities have been generous benefactors and the school's Governors have been able to use some of the budget delegated to them in a most imaginative manner. Even more building is needed and although there are plans to add two more classrooms and transform another into a laboratory this summer, donations, legacies and gifts to implement further parts of the plan will always be welcomed.

Throughout these eventful years, pupils have continued to be as innovative, hardworking and adventurous as their predecessors. Everyone is able to take part in the range of extra-curricular sport - hockey, netball, cross country running, athletics, rounders, tennis, volleyball, dance; outdoor pursuits are available to most year groups, there is an annual skiing week, a biennial cruise, theatre visits, conferences and European exchanges.

House activities are well supported and the school has an excellent reputation in taking part in charity at local, national and international levels. It has grown from the early years and the link forged with St. Anne's School, Vauxhall, Birmingham in the 1930s. Toys and clothes were made and Christmas Parties given. Special days were held at school in the summer with games and tea. The link continued for forty years until St Anne's closed in 1972. During the 80s and 90s large numbers of soft toys were made each year and given away at Christmas and our crackers were used at OAPs Christmas parties. Ventures such as Live Aid, the world's largest coffee mornings, Comic relief and sponsored fasts for Oxfam are still supported and Harvest Festival generates many gifts to elderly neighbours.

Pupils are also extremely successful in external music and art competitions. These areas flourish within the school and, from the evidence of the Old Girls' Association, always have. In recent years pupils have won prizes worth almost £30,000 including one major prize, a new minibus, won by Lisa Urry. Cooperation with Bishop Vesey's Grammar School continues through the joint operatic society which has just concluded its thirteenth production. Links with industry, commerce and the community have grown; there are many visitors into school and all pupils have two weeks of work experience in Year 10 at least, whilst most extend this further in the Sixth Form. In 1997/98 the Sixth form were active in preparation for the G8 summit and Nyla Yousuf became one of the two UK delegates at the G8 young people's summit. This was a totally new dimension to the school's community experience.

Regular inspections of schools by OFSTED have been in place since 1993. This school was first inspected in 1994 and more recently during February 1999. On both occasions, the reports congratulated the school on its achievements whilst giving encouragement for even greater improvement in the years ahead.

The changes in the education framework since 1983 have allowed the school to grow in so many different dimensions reinforced in 1988 by giving real responsibilities to the Governing Body. At their most recent meeting the Governors decided that, from September 1999, the school will once again be know as Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls. They have responsibility for managing the school and an extensive budget. The result allows the Headmistress and all staff to ensure that the opportunities for pupils are excellent enabling everyone, not just a few, to achieve success whilst remembering - "Not for own advantage, but for the common good".

Quote - Jane Thompson

"Those who have gone before and those who are yet to come make the School what it is and the School song epitomises all that the School tries to be. May the School and spirit continue for many years and be just as glorious".

Sources:

Reference Department of Sutton Coldfield Library
A.A. Fairn - "Brief History of Sutton Coldfield Girls School 1929 - 74"
Jane Thompson - "Sixty Years of Sutton Coldfield Girls' School 1929 - 1989"
Gillian Plant - 1940s Cynosure magazines.
Jennifer J. Jones - Headmistress.