Greenhill Grammar school, Oldham

 

THE WEST OLDHAM HIGH & GREENHILL GRAMMAR SCHOOLS

AND THEIR PLACE IN MID-CENTURY EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS.

 

The celebrations marking 150 years since Oldham received its charter as a town follow a period of unprecedented change in educational theory and practice, so it is worth recalling the very significant developments that have taken place since the centennial celebrations of 1949.


It has been a half-century of continuous change, for instance, in the way the educational opportunities for our young people have been improved and extended. In my own case, it was particularly rewarding to renew my acquaintance (50 years on) with those who were able to benefit from these substantial changes. I remember them when they were eleven years old, at the threshold of the exciting prospect of their secondary school career, and now are either retired or are steadily approaching retirement age.

 

Arising from the initiative of a small enthusiastic committee, drawn from the first year of intake to West Oldham High School, which opened its doors to them in September 1947, two Reunions have already taken place, at which their fellow students, and the few members of staff still with us, were able to meet each other. At these events it was possible to measure the personal achievements of these pupils who had participated in these changes which began to take place almost immediately after the end of a most devastating war, that had been so destructive of material and human resources.


Yet in 1947 the Oldham Education Committee took the extremely important decision of increasing its provision for selected secondary education in the Borough. The existing provision included the school on Greengate St. in Glodwick, known at the time as the Oldham Municipal Secondary School, which had successfully offered selected education to many Oldham children since the 1920's, as a response to the terms of the 1918 Education Act.

 

Additionally, during the 1930's, when I first became aware of the position, a small number of pupils who successfully passed the entrance examinations to certain Manchester schools - and the Oldham Hulme Grammar Schools - also received an academic education. In total, about 15% of Oldham's pupils at the age of eleven, proceeded to selected education.


The 1944 Education Act recognised the wide range of opportunities for selected secondary education, by the inclusion of a foundation tenet - "that Secondary Education should be available according to the age, aptitude and ability of the pupils."


On this basis, and from the extensive experience of the Head teachers of three large Oldham Junior Schools, Mr Percy Jones of Hathershaw, Mr Frank Riddle of Freehold and Mr Edgar Shore of Derker, a well-documented report was submitted to Oldham Education Committee recommending an increase in the provision of selective education at 11+ to a little over 30%.


After careful and detailed consideration during the late summer and autumn of 1946, approval was given by both local and national governments.  A long delayed reorganisation of Oldham's schools had occurred in September 1946, that is, the separation of Junior and Senior schools into different buildings, under separate Head teachers. This was based on the tri-partite system of Secondary education contained in the 1944 legislation; a number of Secondary Modern schools had been established, as well as the three Central Schools, which had provided Secondary Education, with a technical and commercial bias at Hollins, Ward St. and Waterloo. These became three of the newly-designated Secondary Modern Schools.

The proposed increase in selected education would involve the opening of an additional school to provide accommodation for the pupils who were to be selected for it.


I first became acquainted with these new proposals at a local branch meeting of the National Union of Teachers, where the implications for Oldham school children were explained by the three Headteachers, during the autumn of 1946, and that they would become effective from September 1947. The school chosen for the new developments was the Ward St. building, opened in 1926, but whose name had been changed to Robin Hill Secondary Modern School, in September 1946. In preparation for the proposed changes, the Headmaster, Mr. James Parker, B.Sc., would take responsibility for the new school, to be called West Oldham High School, and the Oldham Municipal Secondary School was renamed East Oldham High School.


The staffing changes needed to effect the reorganisation programme of the previous autumn had included my own transfer to Robin Hill. The pupils there would be phased out annually and their places taken by a selective pupil intake, year on year, as West Oldham High School grew. Appropriately qualified staff were appointed to meet the growing needs of the new school, teaching to begin with, in both schools. Mr Parker, with Mr Archer Tate as his Deputy, administered both sections of the school. After four years of this transitional development, yet another change was about to take place.


It had been recognised from the outset that both the East and West Oldham High School buildings would provide inadequate accommodation for the needs of the increasing population, but a solution to this problem was available. Building work had been resumed on the site at Higher Counthill, (it had been stopped at the outbreak of the Second World War) and it became available in September 1951.   During the summer term East Oldham High School, in its entirety, moved to the new building, becoming Counthill Grammar School, and West Oldham High School moved into the vacated premises as Greenhill Grammar School.


The pupils who had entered W.O.H.S. in 1947 were entered for external public examinations in June 1952, the second year of operation of the new General Certificate of Education (G.C.E), which had replaced the Matriculation/School Certificate.


As the philosopher has said, "......nothing is constant, except change", and the history of the U.K. educational system provides abundant evidence for the truth of that remark.


The examination results achieved by the pupils of the fledgling school completely justified the confidence of the three Junior School Headteachers, who had submitted their proposal to increase the percentage provision of Secondary Grammar School education in Oldham, but those who participated stood to gain far more than public examination results can ever reveal. It was evident at the Reunion, that those pupils had "made their mark", locally, nationally and globally, and society at large has benefited immeasurably from the contributions they have been able to make.


Having successully steered the school through to its first examination results, Mr Parker retired in August 1952, and Mr Thomas Higson was promoted as the new Headteacher from a senior position at Counthill Grammar School, and he remained as Head until 1962.


The next step forward for many of these pupils, by now aged 16+, was a leap into the unknown - to give a strong commitment to sixth form studies, with the promised land of Advanced Level successes and Higher Education beckoning to them. Equally important was the support of the parents of these pupils, who, quite naturally, wanted reassurances that the sacrifices they would quite clearly be called upon to make, would be justifiable.


It was one of Mr Higson's prime tasks to promote the development of Sixth Form studies. Under his guidance, Greenhill Grammer School's Sixth Form began as little more than a handful of devotees, but, over the next decade, blossomed into a very substantial number, who, year by year, assembled very commendable successes. Many proceeded to further their education at Universities and other colleges of various kinds.


These successes obviously delighted their parents, but we should not overlook the forward effects on their children and grandchildren. Assuredly, 'the trumpets will sound for them on the other side', further justifying the earlier decision to increase Grammar School provision.


A retrospective review, such as this, and the nostalgia that inevitably accompanies it, can prove meaningful only if it builds a bridge to the future. Fortunately, there is a natural inclination in human beings, to learn the lessons of past experiences, whether this be the instinctive impulse to build on the best practice of past achievements, or to learn from past errors, or both. This way lies positive, constructive progress, and the words of Tennyson in "Morte d'Arthur", expresses it more fittingly than any words of mine:-


"The old order changes, yielding place to new, and God Fulfils Himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world."


Such a determination can bring out the best in human beings, thus identifying the only realistic path forward --- onward and upward.
As we prepare for such forward steps on the way to the threshold of the third Millennium A.D., thought provoking questions might include:-

 

  •     What will be the nature and characteristics of the society of the future?
  •     Who will shape it?
  •     Will it be left to the few, or will there be a queue of willing contributors?
  •     Who will write the retrospective review?


This must, obviously, be another story!!! But in the meantime I offer this account to all my friends, joint participants in the great adventure, with the sincere hope that they will identify and recognise their place in history.


RONALD WELLS APRIL 1999