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Ipswich Icons: We nearly had a Wolsey High School in 1931

PUBLISHED: 15:14 14 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:14 14 July 2017

Northgate's arts and performance block. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETY

Northgate's arts and performance block. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETY

Archant

If you went to Northgate in the pre-1977 halcyon days, when it still was a grammar school, you won’t need me to tell you what a good school it was. It still is! Writes John Norman.

The site in the past with its demountable huts. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETYThe site in the past with its demountable huts. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETY

Just look at the house prices in the Northgate catchment. But there was something special about Northgate back then and I’ve done some research to try to capture it.

We’ll start, however, with the Elementary Education Act of 1870 (The Forster Act) which created school boards and thus Elementary or Board Schools “where they were needed”.

The aim of Forster’s Act was universal literacy and in this respect it worked. Before the Act, more than 50% of the population were illiterate (couldn’t read or write). By 1900 (after the Act) almost everybody who had had an education (and that was almost everybody under 40) was literate.

The Ipswich School Board carried out a census of the number of young people in the borough and calculated that 11 new board schools would be required.

The school in 1939. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETYThe school in 1939. Picture: IPSWICH SOCIETY

The board first acquired the Ragged School in Waterworks Street in 1872 and in the same year built new schools in Wherstead Road, Argyle Street, and an infants’ school in Trinity Street.

By 1890 the total number of places at board schools was 4,600, which, together with the places at National and British Schools, provided an education for all pre 13-year-olds in Ipswich.

In 1902 the Balfour Act abolished school boards and empowered local education authorities with the where-with-all to set up both elementary and secondary schools. A precursor to what was to come had been the establishment of Higher Grade Schools, the first of which was in Smart Street in 1892.

New premises had been built at Tower Ramparts (1899), a school for both boys and girls; however, they were strictly segregated, each in a separate half of the school.

By 1906 the number of boys enrolling caused the LEA to move the girls to a new facility at Bolton Lane (later to become the Music School). A report of 1927 identified that the Tower Ramparts School, and especially the ex-military (First World War) timber huts (temporary classrooms), were no longer suitable for educational purposes and a new school was proposed.

The site of the existing schools playing fields at Sidegate was chosen, with adjacent land purchased to allow for separate boys’ and girls’ schools. An £80,000 initial estimate (£85 per pupil place) was agreed and the project went out to tender. Contractor Pollard and Skerritt was the lowest bidder but its tender came in at £92,300, or £97 per pupil place – 15% higher than the estimate.

The education committee had been considering names for the new school and came close to adopting Wolsey High School for Boys, but following a rethink in late May, 1931, it became Northgate High School for Boys. (A similar name was to be used for the adjacent girls’ school).

The two next-door high schools opened in September, 1931.

The 1944 Education Act created the opportunity for local authorities to develop grammar, secondary modern and technical schools. Thus, in 1945 Northgate became Ipswich’s grammars.

By 1965 the Government were pressing for “comprehensive” education in all schools but there was strong resistance from LEAs and the debate went on, and on.

It was still raging in 1974 when control of schools moved from Ipswich Borough Council to Suffolk County Council and the resistance to change became even stronger.

In due course it was agreed comprehensive education in Ipswich should commence with the new school year 1977. In anticipation, the September ’76 intake was mixed: boys and girls in the same form.

A feature of this time was a marked increase in pupil numbers and thus the need for temporary accommodation; or, as they were called at Northgate, “caravan classrooms”.

Thus on September 6, 1977, and with 2,000 on the roll, the school became Northgate High School, a mixed comprehensive.

Sir Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Education and Science, made an official visit to the school in April, 1983, and was taken on a tour that included the extensive number of temporary classrooms.

He insisted on meetings with staff, students and education officers and was particularly taken aback by questions asked by sixth-formers, the culmination of which was the start of a rebuilding programme lasting nine years. The new school was opened by Prince Edward in March, 1992.

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