Adventure On: celebrating 50 years of Colne Valley high school
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Colne Valley high school, in the West Riding, was an early purpose-built comprehensive, generally claimed as the first. It opened in January 1956, only 15 months or so after London's Kidbrooke. Former pupil Susan Baxter, who moved from a grammar school to Colne Valley when it opened, writes in this history of the school: "Colne Valley felt very different to me - new and cutting-edge, and, even though I was only 13 years old, I was aware that I was part of an innovating and exciting experiment in education."
Susan's account is one of many collected by a team of Colne Valley teachers. They tell a lively story, familiar to anyone who worked in a big secondary at the time. There'll be your own equivalent of Albert Marsland, feared disciplinarian, looking as though he'd rather be somewhere else. The sport and music (the latter particularly excellent) will be recognisable, and the school journeys.
It's probably hindsight that makes us think schools like Colne Valley had a golden age in the years before 1980, with fewer rules and regulations, no national curriculum and a rich life outside lessons. Teachers freely gave their own time, and yet still had time to socialise. Kate Seager, PE teacher in the 1970s, writes: "I remember how well everyone got on - the visits to pubs and clubs, the folk singing, the brass band concerts and all the wonderful musical productions." Then came the teachers' work to rule.
Allan Newton, head from 1977 to 1997 writes: "Unfortunately all good things come to an end and in the mid-1980s the national teachers' dispute virtually brought the school to a halt."
Colne Valley high still thrives, of course, gathering Ofsted plaudits and adapting, as schools do, to changing legislation and shifts in society. In a postscript, today's head, Linda Wright, commits the school to the maintenance of its founding values. Earlier, Robert Newton, a pupil in 1956, reminds us what they were: "Everyone had a chance to make the most of himself or herself. Some of us never lit up the sky, but that was not down to lack of opportunity."