Great Northern Schools—No. 10


By COLM BROGAN [The Yorkshire Post, Tuesday November 21, 1961]

Former teacher and author of many books on education including “The Educational Revolution”

THE principal grammar school in Sheffield is misleadingly named. The King Edward the Seventh School did not find its origin In the age of the early motor car, post-Victorian relaxation, strikes, Home Rule and indignant duchesses refusing to lick stamps for Lloyd George.

With a bit of luck it might even have been called the King Edward the Sixth School. It was  certainly founded just after 1600 and there was very likely a grammar school for some time before that.

In 1906, the year of the last great Liberal storming of the strongholds of power, the Royal Grammar School of Sheffield, amalgamated with the Wesley School, was sold to the city and came under complete civic control.


A group of masters at King Edward VII Grammar School, Sheffield

Back row (left to right): B. H. Edwards, R. W. Prescott, A. H. Wilcock, A. G. Jones, D. Rhodes, J. A. Bray, P. Baldwin, M. F. A. Earl, R. A. Braunholtz, Dr.  G. Jameson, F. D. A. Burns, R. C. German, J. G. O. Phillips, W. C. Hall, L. J. Slattery.

Centre row: Dr. B. Knowles, G. Y. Adam, K. Bridgwater, J. Sinclair, D. B. Harrison, N. J. Barnes, E. L. Vernon, H. T. R. Twyford, J. C. Hemming, V. A. Vout, O. R. Johnston, E. J. Green, Dr. W. E. Wightman, J. E. Thompson, J. B. Lockett.

Front row: C. Helliwell, A. W. Surguy. W. K. Mace, G. H. Cowan, T. G. Cook, W. Birkinshaw, A. Jackson (deputy head), N. L. Clapton (headmaster), E. V. Bramhall, G. Mackay, R. N. Towers, P. D. C. Points, J. Oppenheimer, T. K. Robinson, Dr. J. J. Head.

Abolished the O.T.C.

This meant the loss of autonomous government which the school had enjoyed for fully three centuries. How serious is that loss? Ronald Gurner, who became head master about the time of the General Strike, found it intolerable. The Socialist majority on Sheffield Council abolished the OTC and also the governing body of the school.

Gurner started, or was driven to start, a conflict that became of national importance and eventually sent his resignation to the Head Masters’ Conference, whose membership had accredited King Edward the Seventh’s as a “public” school. It was a long-drawn-out and thoroughly unhappy battle, and Gurner was perhaps not the best man to fight it (he was too acutely conscious of personal status).

But King Edward the Seventh was then, and still is, a fully maintained grammar school controlled by the political majority on the City Council.

Made immense strides

Despite that fact, which I find unpalatable, the King Edward the Seventh School had made immense strides. In the proportion of its 250-strong Sixth Form (out of a total roll of 782), its university scholarship successes are very far above the national average. More important, the proportion of “follow through" successes is even higher above the national average. This means that the Edwardians who win important university scholarships mostly justify their preliminary success in their university finals.

The present head master, Mr. N. L. Clapton, appears to be inclined to attribute this continuity of successful effort to the innate tenacity of Sheffield boys. I doubt this.

Winning scholarships

I could think of other schools in other cities where a fearsome tenacity is applied to winning scholarships for boys who have done all that tenacity can do in winning the scholarship, and come out of university with a limping Lower Second or a Third.

In my necessarily limited view of the Edward the Seventh School, the course of study is relaxed and nobody is encouraged to set a pace he cannot keep up. This, I imagine, has more to do than tenacity with the Edwardians’ university success.

The Sixth has an almost even balance between science and the humanities. In a city so highly industrial as Sheffield, this must be accounted satisfactory. The school must be counted the poorer for the complete loss of its primary department at the time of the Butler Act.

Boys who have known no other school from their earliest days add something valuable to the quality of school life. Mr. Clapton himself heartily agrees with this.

Entrance is by means of the city’s Eleven Plus test, which means that it is outside the control of the school itself. The remarkable standard of academic success is proof enough that the test works well within its own terms.

But a school Is a human society and any school is the better for a number of pupils who are not of exceptional intelligence but have other qualities which are perhaps rarer.

All boys have at least one year of woodwork and of metalwork and the school is especially strong in music. The prefect system appears to work well.

Take duties seriously

I had a talk with young Mr. Hetherington, the head boy. He made it clear that he and the prefects take their duties very seriously — without undue solemnity. He believes that the responsibility imposed by a degree of authority has been one of the most important factors in his training.

He looked and talked remarkably like a number of public school prefects I had seen being interviewed on television shortly before my visit to the school. There was the same modest assurance, the same modest confidence and the same sense of responsibility.

It is not easy to organise out-of-hours activities in a day school, but I was assured that the enthusiasts in the various school societies are enthusiastic indeed. From many quarters we hear that even the most talented youngsters of today are disorganised and frustrated by the Bomb. All too conscious of their possible doom, the little victims either play or don’t play, work or don’t work.

The head-boy gave me refreshing reassurance. He and his contemporaries are certainly aware of the Bomb, but they are also aware that they can do nothing about it and so they hardly ever mention the subject but get on with the job in hand.

Although the school has no Cadet Force of any description, anti-nuclear sentiments seem to be nearly invisible. The Scouts, strongly supported, take the place of the CCF.

Games are optional, the staple being soccer, cricket, cross country and tennis. King Edward’s is reasonably fortunate in having playing-fields quite near at hand. The main building is quite impressive, with a front not unlike that of Glasgow Academy. (It seems highly appropriate that the head master should have been a master in Glasgow Academy for a number of years).

A high proportion

Roughly half the staff come from Oxford and Cambridge, rather a high proportion for a school that is completely council-controlled.

There is an equal balance in the post-school careers of the school leavers, about half going immediately into gainful employment, and half to universities, with a high proportion to Oxford and Cambridge.

Acute shortages of mathematics masters is the headache of all grammar and public schools, and King Edward’s is not immune.

In one respect the very high academic reputation of the school is something of a handicap, for it makes King Edward’s a very useful stepping stone for promotion, which could lead to an uncomfortably high turnover of staff.

The boys take their academic hurdles rather earlier than most, which means that they also go to university rather younger than most, a fact which makes their university success all the more impressive.

The school is enviably strong on economics, a subject calculated to clear the contemporary mind of muddle, myth and cant far more effective than am amount of civics.

Outstanding record

If King Edward the Seventh is most notable for its outstanding academic record, that record has not been achieved at the expense of human values.

Of all the boys I spoke to informally, younger and older, I could not find one who did not appear perfectly happy and thoroughly at home. Even in the classrooms there is an air of informality and spontaneous interest. No mean tribute to any school.        

Dame Allan’s School, Newcastle upon Tyne, will be featured in this series a fortnight today.

[The Yorkshire Post, Tuesday November 21, 1961]