Russell Sharrock, formerly the long-serving Headmaster of King Edward VII School (1966-88), died in Sheffield on Wednesday, 14th December 2011.
He was born in Wigan in 1924 the son of a plumber, and won a scholarship to Wigan Grammar School before going on to Liverpool University in 1942 to begin a physics degree. The war disrupted his studies, when in 1943 he was commissioned into the Royal Signals and sent to work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, before returning at the war’s end to complete his degree at Liverpool, graduating in 1947.
Qualifying as a teacher in 1948, he had an unusual and wide ranging career in a variety of schools. His first appointment was at a secondary modern school in Warrington, then a period at the HMC school, Lancaster RGS, followed by periods at London LCC grammar schools at Croydon and Battersea. While he was in London he studied in the evenings for an external MSc degree in maths at Sir John Cass College, which he completed in 1962.
That year he was offered the position of Deputy Headteacher at Mallory School, a purpose-built comprehensive school in Lewisham. Comprehensive schools were still fledgling institutions in the middle Sixties, although many Labour controlled councils were enthusiastically gearing up to establish the comprehensive system of education throughout their secondary schools, replacing the tripartite system set up by the 1944 Education Act.
None more so than Sheffield, who voted in 1965 to make all its secondary schools comprehensive by the end of the decade. This policy had some considerable support in the city but very little among the staff and parents of King Edward VII School, resulting in a fierce campaign being fought to keep KES out of the comprehensive re-organisation scheme. Nathaniel Clapton (Headmaster 1950-65) decided to retire, bitterly disappointed and angry that the grammar school he had built up, that was lauded nationally for its academic standards, was to be changed into a comprehensive school theoretically equal in status to every other school in the city.
It was into this poisonous atmosphere that Russell Sharrock arrived at KES in January 1966 as the new Headmaster. He was chosen by the City Council because of his experience at Mallory School and also for his clear commitment to comprehensive education. Initially he had two main tasks. To continue to run a grammar school for three more years (1966-69) with many of his staff vowing to leave (half did), whilst at the same time preparing for the transition towards a boys-only comprehensive school in 1969. At the last minute the returning Labour administration (the Conservatives controlled the SCC for one year 1968-9) decided all its comprehensive schools would be co-educational. So, when Russell Sharrock led KES into the comprehensive era it was to be as a co-ed school, much to the alarm of those KES staff who had remained. Few new headteachers can have had a more difficult brief and the problems were then compounded by the decision to base KES on two sites over a mile apart, with Lower School at Darwin Lane and the rest of the school in the grand Palladian building on Glossop Road.
Russell Sharrock took a pragmatic approach to introducing comprehensive education. He had no intention of throwing away the school’s reputation for academic excellence by encouraging an ideologically driven blueprint for comprehensive education at KES. Reflecting in later years on that period, he made it quite clear that in the Seventies he had always intended to maintain a “grammar school” within the comprehensive system, whilst at the same time raising the aspirations and achievements of pupils who would have been previously excluded from KES by the 11+ examination. He regarded it as essential that all pupils should be carefully nurtured and be guided onto the appropriate courses of study, full partners within a school that was now well over a thousand pupils.
The City Council had also ensured that KES, like the other former grammar schools in the south west of the city, had a diverse student intake. They were determined that schools like KES and High Storrs would serve a socially mixed catchment area not just the middle class suburbs adjacent to the schools, and this added to the challenges that Russell Sharrock had to face. This decision created one of the defining features of KES over the last forty years. The school, post 1969, had an intake of students taken straight out of the comprehensive school text book. Every shade of wealth and social deprivation was represented at KES in relatively equal proportions, and so was the ability range. Few comprehensive schools can make such a claim and in Russell Sharrock’s later years as Headmaster (he always called himself Headmaster and was also the last member of staff to regularly wear a gown) the ethnic composition of KES began to change, reflecting the arrival of new communities in the city.
Sharrock’s great achievement was to guide KES through that difficult period of
transition and establish a successful comprehensive school. One that could
metaphorically look its predecessor grammar school in the eye and say;
“we have maintained the excellence of education at KES, even if we are now a different sort of school.”
Although, as he neared retirement, he feared that his legacy might well mirror that of his predecessor. A new surge of political enthusiasm in the early Eighties planned to terminate all Sheffield sixth forms and replace them with eight tertiary colleges. KES was to be abolished and the Upper School building was to become one of these tertiary colleges, whilst Lower School would be merged with Tapton in a new 11-16 school. Russell Sharrock was not enthusiastic for this change but felt powerless in the face of its apparent inevitability (KES Governors were very keen supporters of the new proposals). However, an amazing political coup in 1986, hatched between local Conservatives and their Government in Westminster, resulted in six secondary schools in Hallam Constituency being withdrawn from the city-wide plan. So, when Russell Sharrock retired in 1988, KES had survived another of its periodic crises and was still going strong. In his final speech he proudly announced that eight students had gained places at Oxbridge that year, proof that high academic standards had been maintained at KES during his time in charge. Moreover, there were many hundreds of former pupils who had succeeded in gaining “O” levels, CSEs and “A” levels and gone on to university courses, when they would previously have left school at 15 with very little to show for their time in formal education.
Mike Denial, RS, and Bryan Gallagher.
Russell Sharrock with his Management Team shortly before his retirement in 1988.
Russell Sharrock is survived by his wife Mary, whom he first met when they were both teaching in Lancaster in the Fifties. She herself played a very full role in the life of the school during her husband’s tenure of the Head’s position at KES.
Russell Sharrock was the longest serving headmaster/headteacher at KES completing over 22 years service, and many will fondly remember his courteous, dignified and reassuring presence during those years when he guided KES through such turbulent times.
Russell Sharrock’s funeral will take place at St. Mark’s Broomhill at 1pm. on Wednesday, 28th December 2011.
My memories of Russell Sharrock
It was the end of June 1966. I had just completed my Postgraduate Certificate in Education and was in the outer office of Harry Armytage, the Professor of Education at the University of Sheffield. The great man appeared, to inform me that there was a phone call for me in his office. I naturally expressed my incredulity that anyone would try to contact me via him.
At that time I had been offered a post at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and was seriously thinking of an all-expenses-paid move across the Big Pond.
On the end of the mystery phone call was Russell Sharrock, whom I had never met, and who was clearly in league with the Prof., who had presumably set up the phone call. I had, however, certainly heard of “King Ted’s”, which I had passed frequently on my way to the University. I was persuaded by Russell to “drop in for a chat”.
I had no smart clothes, having taken everything home at the end of term, so I had to borrow something smarter than jeans and a T-shirt to visit Glossop Road the next morning.
Despite the fact that I wore an ill-fitting brown suit, the interview resulted in me being persuaded to accept a teaching post. How could I refuse a chance to start my working life at one of the very best schools in the country?
Russell Sharrock was a great boss who clearly had faith in me, such that in the 13 years I spent at KES I received three promotions. I really appreciated the fact that, once appointed, you were left to get on with the job, a rare phenomenon today.
Russell masterminded the traumatic changes that came with Harold Wilson’s Government policies, ultimately leading to the merger of KES with Crosspool School. This resulted in the combined School operating on several sites (with the two distant playing fields), which I remember Russell referring to in his first, post-merger, Speech Day as “The Four-Site Saga” (probably his best-ever joke).
I have very fond memories of my first boss.