The Historic Development of St. Stephen’s. Part 2

The 1920s and 1930s saw the growth of a movement to end the parallel systems of elementary and secondary education and to replace them by an end-on system of primary and secondary education. The Hadow Committee report of 1926 concluded that education should be conceived in two stages; Primary and Secondary, with a break at about 11. Before this time organisation was vague, with no defined system of age grouping.

St. Stephen's log book records the expansion of the school to include children of all school ages, from infant up to the age of 14 in (1923) in a building originally intended for children aged 5 to 10 years. In 1931 the system altered throughout the town as the log book records "The Staff have been engaged during the last 3 days with clerical work owing to reorganisation. All children of 11 years of age have been transferred to senior schools in the town, and St. Stephen's School will be a Junior Mixed School from 13th April, 1931."

The above system was implemented in Wolverhampton in 1931, in order to coincide with the intended raising of the compulsory 1eaving age from the age of 14 - 15 years scheduled in 1931. The latter did not take place however, but the reorganisation did go ahead.

St. Stephen's School, as it is today.

The Hadow Report of 1926 also suggested alterations in the curriculum. Under the influence of John Dewey, the report stressed that the curriculum should be thought of in terms of activity and experience rather than of knowledge to be acquired and facts to be stored.

For example English was re-assessed in terms of ora1 work as much as written routines. The Hadow Committee pressed for younger children to be taught less through subjects and more through manual and aesthetic experience, integrated schemes and project work. The log book of St. Stephen's records attempts at such teaching methods. Children were taken on many educational visits and group teaching was adopted to allow "specialisation".

In 1922 Wolverhampton held an Education Week when all the schools in the town presented something to everyone else. This took the form of a pageant with a procession and different displays provided by the schools, on the route taken.

The first schools music festival took place in 1934 in Wolverhampton. This gave the children an aim in music lessons. Many schools in the town took part, each singing before the others, and it is a practice that continues to the present day. Along the same lines, a sports day was held in the same year at Molineux football ground, in which many schools from the town took part, and this also continues annually, although the venue is now the purpose built Aldersley Sports Stadium.

One of the old classrooms. Courtesy of Peter Waterhouse.

The first recorded open day at St. Stephen’s, at which parents were able to visit the school, talk with the staff and see examples of their children’s work, was held in July 1936 and these then formed an annual part of the school timetable. The H.M.I. report of 1938 on St. Stephen’s, records that "new activities are contributing to greater interest in formal activities" in accordance with the recommendations of the Hadow report.

The outbreak of the Second World War affected education generally. The first indication of the war in St. Stephen’s log book is in September, 1938 when the head teacher was "summoned to a meeting of head teachers in connection with the recent international unrest." Air raid precaution lectures followed and in September of the following year, the re-opening of school after the summer holiday was delayed due to the outbreak of war. A normal timetable was attempted from November of tat year, but air raids disturbed the intended lessons. Undeterred, the log book records how these lessons were continued in the air raid shelters.

Evacuees from the cities vulnerable to attack, were drafted into Wolverhampton and the log book records how 16 evacuees were on the roll in September, 1944. Attention was devoted in war time, more than ever before, to the health of the children. At St. Stephen’s on 20th October, 1941 "The Feeding in Schools Scheme" was started. The log book records how 36 children stayed to a hot dinner at the cost of 6d per day for juniors and 4d a day for infants. The school meals service grew enormously. Some 1.5 million children nationwide, were taking school meals before the war ended. Three times the pre-war figure.

A game at play time. Courtesy of Peter Waterhouse.

Nutrition and general health were very important issues in the war years. St. Stephen’s log book records many nutrition surveys throughout the war. Milk started to be given to the children at playtime. Immunisations against Diphtheria began to take place and there were frequent medical inspections of the children.

In 1940 the schools in Wolverhampton remained open all year in order that the parents of the children might work towards the war effort knowing their children were being cared for. The log book of St. Stephen’s records how teachers staggered their week’s holiday in order that there might be a permanent staff.

July 15th, 1940. "It has been decided by the Education Committee that members of staff should receive a week's holiday each, but the schools should remain open during July and August." After the war there was a profound agreement on the need to finish re-modelling education and to radically re-appraise educational needs and aims. In 1942 Mr. R. A. Butler became President of the Board of Education and work was begun on the Education Bill which came before Parliament for its first reading in December, 1943 and received the Royal Assent in August, 1944. The most important provision of the 1944 Education Act was that which proclaimed that "Public Education shall be organised in 3 progressive stages to be known as Primary Education, Secondary Education and Further Education." The School leaving age, originally scheduled to be raised in 1931, was raised to 15, in 1945.

Local Authorities were obliged to provide school meals, free milk and regular medical inspection. A new settlement was reached with the Voluntary Schools, given their inability to cope with reorganisation costs, they were given the choice of accepting "controlled" status under which the L.E.A. would meet all the school's expenses, or aided status, under which the authority would pay for the running of the school and half the capital cost of adapting the school to meet the requirements of the Act.

A view of the school from Woden Road.

In all schools a daily act of collective worship was made a requirement, along with religious instruction, based on an agreed syllabus (agreed between the L.E.A. and the religious bodies.)

The report proposed the establishment of a central body to supervise the training of teachers, for the committee was anxious to raise the status of the teaching profession. To meet post-war needs, a scheme for the emergency training of teachers was introduced and over a period of 6 years, some 35,000 prospective teachers attended one year crash courses, some in colleges opened especially for the purpose.

St. Stephen's log book records how a "temporary unqualified teacher awaiting acceptance at an Emergency Training College" came to assist the staff in February 1945.

From 1950 onwards the main problem dominating schools in Wolverhampton has been that of immigration. In 1955 there were over 27,000 immigrant children in schools throughout Wolverhampton, and the number of children of minority ethnic groups has risen since then. In addition to immigrant numbers rising, the post-war population trends are marked by the increased birth rate.

The post-war bulge and the raising of the school leaving age to 15, dramatically increased the number of children in grant aided schools in England and Wales, from just over 5 million in 1946 to dome 7 million in the early 1960s.

The character of the catchment area reflected changes in society and environment in the early post war years. The housing attracted many newcomers in the minority ethnic groupings, and the percentage of these minority group children was (and still is) very high. This brought additional problems, particularly concerned with language.

The old boys' entrance.

With such social and educational difficulties, classes need to be kept small, indeed, one of the main struggles in post-war primary education was to reduce the size of the classes. Pressure to set a target of 30 children to a class, in primary as well as secondary schools, began to mount. A stimulus for further change in primary schools was given by the publication in 1967 of the Plowden Report on Children and their Primary Schools. The basic philosophy of the report was influenced by research into child development including that of Piaget, a French psychologist, favouring a balance of individual and class work. The committee put forward a programme for closer contact between schools and parents, and was particularly concerned with what it termed "Educational Priority Area Schools." St. Stephen's is such a school, situated in a deprived area of the town where the children need experiences of all kinds at school.

Areas which qualified for E.P.A. status under the Plowden Report’s recommendations were given special financial help - £16 million for a special building programme in 1968 for example. It is out of this special building grant that a new St. Stephen's School was built. In September 1970 a new building on Long Ley, Heath Town was opened, approximately one mile away from the old building on Grimstone Street. This new building was a modern open plan school, providing opportunities for group work and a more flexible timetable, as envisaged in the Plowden report. The official opening took place on July 13th, 1970, but by April, 1971 there was a single class back in the old building on Grimstone Street, since the new building was already overcrowded.

In 1971 the Conservative Government withdrew free milk except for children under 8 or in special schools for whom it was recommended on medical grounds. The price of school meals rose by one third from 9p to 12p. Education was becoming in many respects, more exposed to the pressures of economic and political policy.

Closer relationships between parents and schools had been fostered since the Second World War, by the establishment of parent-teacher associations. In many schools an involvement between school and community became an integral aim of education and St. Stephen’s was no exception to the rule. For example, at St. Stephen’s parents are welcome to attend the school assembly on a Friday afternoon, which is presented by a different class each week. The head teacher is always available for discussion and the parents are made to feel welcome.

Some parents assist in the school as ancillary helpers and this is particularly valuable in the yearly programme of educational visits arranged, making the ratio of adults to children more advantageous. At fund raising efforts, open days and sports activities and performances, the involvement of parents and friends, both active and passive, is considered vital. It is only in the Governing body that there is no parental involvement, this being a church school, although the 1980 Education Act, with the section dealing with Governing Bodies, will alter this.

Play time. Courtesy of Peter Waterhouse.

The physical movement of the School site from Grimstone Street to Long Ley in 1970, heralded a new era. The school roll increased from 76 some eighteen months prior to the move, to 330 in September, 1971. The high "bulge" years coupled with a rehousing programme in the School area, the continued influx of minority ethnic groups particularly from Jamaica and the Punjab, increased the school roll to its maxim of 556 by 1974. The former site in Grimstone Street was re-occupied and by this time housed a little under 250 children under the direction of the Deputy Head.

Pressures for school places in the area as a whole was increasing, and the authority put in a plan for reorganisation of both secondary and primary education. The establishment of an area comprehensive school on a site formerly occupied by a girl's secondary modern and an infant school, the building of a new church junior school and a new church infants school in the adjoining parish of Holy Trinity, enabled the boy's secondary modern school (coincidentally housed in the original St. Stephen's Springfield buildings) to transfer to the new comprehensive site. This left vacant the secondary Springfield Road site which was converted to house separate infant and junior schools from Woden Road.

These premises in turn were modernised to provide the fourth home in ninety-eight years for St. Stephen's. During the period of conversion work, St. Stephen's was housed on three sites, Long Ley, (ten classes), Grimstone Street (six classes), and Woden Road, (two classes)

In September 1977 the first stage of the St. Stephen's reorganisation took place when a little over 200 children drawn from the Long Ley site, the Grimstone Street site, the Woden Road site, and a transfer intake from Park Village Infant School, were registered as pupils of St. Stephen' s.

Approximately 100 children remained at the Grimstone Street site, which continued to function as an annexe for the next twelve months and 200 children were left behind at the Long Ley site to form a new Long Ley Primary School.

In September 1979 the Grimstone Street site closed for the second and final time (the building being transferred to the Youth Service) and St. Stephen's occupied the whole of the Woden Road site. In October 1979, St. Stephen's opened a nursery class and so provision was complete. The school roll climbed to around the 350 mark and despite the falling roll situation being experienced in other areas of the Borough, fulfilled the planner's expectations.

On March 1st, 1980, the centenary was reached. During this time the school had had four separate "homes" Springfield Road, Grimstone Street, (also known as Hilton Street) Long Ley and Woden Road. The school roll had fluctuated between 72 children at the end of the first week in March, 1880 to an all time low of 64 in 1961, to an all time high of 556 in 1974 to 353 by March, 1980.

Head Teachers had held reins of office, pupil teachers had come and gone, unqualified assistants had come and gone, students awaiting entry to college, teaching as unqualified, had played their part. Members of staff had included many nationalities, Malayan, Italian, Polish, Jamaican, Punjabi, Hindu, and Sikh.

Staff members had held high positions within the education infra-structure, including President of the Head Teachers Association, Teacher Representative on the Education Committee, and President of the Wolverhampton Teachers Association.

School Meals by container, cooked on the premises and by container again, had come and stayed. Holiday and school visit programmes had given pleasure and learning to many ranging from the half day visit to places of interest close by, to camping, Youth Hostelling, and Residential Centres for both infant and junior age ranges. The curriculum has developed both in style and span. An involvement in the community, and the environment started in the early days has continued and developed.

This then is St. Stephen’s, 1981.

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