The Changing 'sixties
King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon 1963-1981


Shakespeare's School
In a 1969 article from Warwickshire and Worcestershire Life Gillian Statham visits King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon

Neatly concealed in the town's busy centre and adjacent to the old Guild of the Holy Cross which was probably responsible for founding the first school there, King Edward VI Grammar School, Stratford-upon-Avon, recently completed a major re-building programme that must be the envy of many a grammar school elsewhere. In the past ten years, all the old buildings have been demolished - with, of course,the exception of the historic ones - to be replaced by a new gymnasium, changing rooms, handicraft centre, dining rooms and laboratories.

In addition, a special block for masters and sixth-formers has been built, providing the boys with a common room and coffee bar so well furnished as to verge on the luxurious, when compared with facilities at many other schools. As the headmaster, Mr N S Pratt pointed out, there is no reason why even the most militant sixth-former should feel that he was being treated like a small schoolboy, a sentiment that must surely be shared by boys and parents alike.

For a school so closely associated with Shakespearean tradition - the room where Shakespeare is assumed to have been taught is still in periodic use and the school's magazine describes itself as "the magazine of Shakespeare's School" - it is appropriate that some emphasis should be placed on drama, and a fly tower over the stage has been built through the generosity of the governors. This year the boys will perform A Man for All Seasons, breaking with the tradition of doing a Shakespearean play in the room in which the poet was educated. In the past the boys' productions of Shakespeare have won high praise from visiting critics, and traditionally some help is provided by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre wardrobe staff.

Although KES cannot accurately claim to be seven-hundred years old this year, there is evidence of the existence of a schoolmaster in 1295 who might well have been attached to the Guild of the Holy Cross, founded in 1269, the property of which still provides the school with the major part of its endowment income. But whatever differences of opinion there may be about these earliest recorded details, it is certain that a school has existed continuously on the site since 1403. In fact, Pedagogue's House, now used as offices for the headmaster, which was built in 1427-8, may well be the earliest example in the country of a specially built school house.

Designated a voluntary-aided school under the 1944 Education Act, KES is fortunate, thanks to the Guild of the Holy Cross, in being very well endowed. During the past three or four years there has, of course, been some speculation about its future, along with that of other grammar schools, under the government's proposals for the implementation of the comprehensive system. First local authority plans suggested that the school should become a sixth-form college, but this proposal has since been shelved, and currently some degree of stalemate exists because of the difficulties involved in working out a scheme for south Warwickshire.

Philip McConnell and William Pashley conducting an experiment Mr C Forster supervises the building of stage equipment Morning service for the whole school in progress

Above: The Guild Chapel, built in 1269 by Robert de Stratford for the Guild of the Holy Cross, has been used by the school as a chapel for daily prayers since 1902. An interesting point is that the Chapel belongs to Stratford Corporation and not to the Church, and has a special role as a Chapel of Unity. Here, morning service for the entire school is in progress

Top left: Philip McConnell (left) and William Pashley, two members of Upper Sixth Science, conduct an experiment to show how bodies can be made to move without friction

Bottom left: Mr C Forster, (right) who teaches Latin and French, supervises a group of sixth-form boys in the building of stage equipment for the new theatre-lecture room. The group also works on Saturday mornings and in the evenings. As soon as the stage is complete, production will start on Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons


While it is easy for critics to accuse those authorities which have not been able to submit satisfactory schemes, of dragging their political feet, the fact has to be recognized that in the case of Warwickshire at least, vast sums of money have been spent during the past few years on providing custom-built high schools - or, as they are known in other areas, secondary modern schools. If powers are taken to compel authorities to implement fully a scheme for comprehensive education, the future pattern that schools such as KES would adopt cannot really be predicted. What could, however, be predicted is that opposition from heads, staff and those concerned with maintaining a grammar school system, would be intense. As far as KES is concerned, it is plain too, that little room exists for any building expansion that might then be necessary.

The main boys' grammar school for this area of south Warwickshire, KES has a two-form entry system catering for some 370 boys, fifty per cent of whom come from the borough. Among the others, some come from as far afield as Hockley Heath and Brailes. In common with many other grammar schools, boys can be transferred from secondary modern schools if their performance indicates capacity for further academic education. A firm advocate of selection, Mr Pratt points out that the transfer system - and it can be done between heads on the telephone" - acts as a safety net catching any child who may have failed in an earlier eleven-plus selection. "I don't think I have known a single boy who should have passed on to higher education and didn't."

Like other grammar schools, too, there is a pronounced lead towards arts subjects among sixth-formers and a perceptible swing back to science with the younger boys. "There is a very great interest among older boys in the social sciences, partly, I think, due to a genuine feeling of alarm about what science and uncontrolled technology can do to the individual."

Recently, a former pupil spent a year with Voluntary Service Overseas in Papua, where he was the only white man apart from the local missionary, and another boy has spent six months with Community Service Volunteers working as a nurse in a mental hospital. "They are all very ready to respond to charitable causes," Mr Pratt commented. A committee dealing with charitable appeals and representing every form, selects three causes each term between which a weekly collection is divided. This term's causes are concerned with leprosy relief, the Ockenden venture, and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

With some seventy-five boys in the sixth form the school may well congratulate itself sending twenty-nine out of thirty-five boys in the upper sixth to university this year. Of those, five gained places at Oxford and Cambridge, and in almost all cases, any boy not going on to a university course takes some other professional qualification. The school does not recommend that boys should continue at school after taking their O levels unless they intend to pursue an academic course. Our sixth-form education is essentially academic," Mr Pratt said. Subjects taught at the school include Spanish as well as the customary Latin and French, and in the sixth boys have a choice of selecting from one hundred-and-forty-seven different combinations of three subjects. "They may mix arts and science if they like, though we do try to steer them away from eccentric combinations." As in all boys' schools, some form of physical activity is compulsory, but since the choice includes golf, fencing, cross-country running and canoeing, as well as the traditional cricket and rugger, it would indeed be an awkward boy who raised any objection. Saturday morning school was abolished shortly after Mr Pratt's arrival six years ago. Boys already had quarter, half and three-quarter term holidays, and I felt that Saturday morning school could well be unfair on families with children at other schools who were free then," Mr Pratt explained.

A private-study period for sixth-formers in the library Fifth-formers in the school's heated indoor swimming pool A sixth-former discussion group with the headmaster in Big School Mr W Puddephat discussing the art work of one of his pupils


Perhaps because of its environment and the extremely comfortable freedom enjoyed by its older forms, KES has thus far been untouched by schoolboy militancy. It has, for example, no school council. "I am not persuaded," says Mr Pratt, "that a twelve-old has anything important to contribute, I believe that a great deal more can be achieved by a series of small committees," a view with which many parents and committee experts will heartily concur. As far as the older boys are concerned there is a democratically elected committee that runs the sixth form block with a member of staff acting as advisor.

Sartorial and hair fashions at KES are, by current standards, unexceptional, though in an era in which a former Chancellor of the Exchequer wears substantial sideboards and a current minister a beard, Mr Pratt has generally given up demands for "short back and sides". "I expect them to be decently groomed and tell them if they're not," he said. He is, in fact, quite prepared to issue ultimatums if necessary, uses a cane for certain offences such as vandalism, smoking on a school bus or bullying, and points out that there is an increasing and understandable tendency among parents to ask the school to intervene in tackling some of the disciplinary problems that can arise today between offspring and their families.

Mr T H Norcross instructing second-formers in the art of pottery making The sixth-form Common Room and Coffee Bar during break Members of Form 5X taking part in gymnastics

Above: Members of Form 5X take part in gymnastics, under the direction of Mr. N.G. Evans, the physical education master. The gymnasium was completed in 1967

Top left: Mr. T.H. Norcross, the handicrafts master, instructs members of 2X in the art of pottery making. Left to right: David Hiam, David Freeman and Lawrence Bull

Bottom left: The sixth-form Common Room and Coffee Bar during break. The boys themselves are responsible for its operation, and they have their own bank account


Although catering for less than four hundred-pupils, KES suffers none of the disadvantages of the average small country grammar school. Within easy reach of the universities of Birmingham and Warwick, with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on its doorstep and benefiting from the many cultural activities - often internationally orientated - for which Stratford is famous, the school can be said to enjoy an exceptionally favoured environment. Mr Pratt, himself Chairman of Stratford's Chamber Music Society, puts it this way: "You could say that we enjoy all the best of both worlds."


From Warwickshire & Worcestershire Life, November 1969.


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