Taverham High School (THS) opened in September 1979. Prior to its official opening a huge amount of work went into laying the foundations of the new school. For more than a year THS was an unfolding vision. The local education authority (LEA) appointed the first Headteacher Jean Daines, in Spring 1978, followed in quick succession by Heads of Department Richard Taylor (English), John Price (Mathematics), Michael Bee (Science), David Harding (Modern Languages), Geoffrey Parkinson (Humanities), Mary Nay (Home Economics and Social Education) and Brian Copelin (Year Tutor and Technology). At this point the building was still an unfinished shell so the new team worked together at Hellesdon High School (HHS) for an entire academic year. There was no Governing Body at this stage.
Jean Daines assembled a leadership team that broadly shared her philosophy and vision, but a team whose members had their own individual strengths and personalities. In terms of background and experience this embryonic leadership team had taught in a wide range of secondary schools - Comprehensive, Secondary Modern, Grammar and Independent - and in the case of the Headteacher herself, all four sectors. HHS Year 8 pupils living in the future catchment area of the new school would be given the option of transferring to THS with the new Taverham staff in 1979. David Jocelyn, Head-teacher of HHS, timetabled the new team of THS teachers to work with the potential transfer pupils as far as possible during the 1978-79 academic year.120 pupils transferred to Taverham along with Dorothy Bruce, the new School Secretary. We were grateful to both the LEA and Mr Jocelyn for the wisdom and facilitation of these arrangements.
A New Leadership Team - The Planning of A New School
During the 1978-79 year our team worked in a school within a school. We were house-guests of HHS but at the end of the school day our thoughts turned to Taverham. We scheduled meetings on a regular basis to plan the new school. Try to imagine the feelings when we met as a group for the first time - disbelief that we were even there, entrusted with this awesome responsibility, excitement at being confronted with a blank sheet of paper on which to shape our vision of a new school! Idealism would compete with realism. We were on the brink of a great educational adventure. We wanted to establish a school in which the real needs of young people as we perceived them would be paramount and pupils would be valued equally as individuals whatever their talents and abilities. A collegiate approach was soon apparent among us and a tightly knit, intensely loyal group emerged. We discussed all aspects of policy and practice: pastoral care and pastoral groups, curriculum and teaching groups, the timing of the school day, links with parents and the wider community, practical details such as school uniform, equipment for subject areas, office and hospitality. It was an exhilarating task even after a full day's teaching. None of us could afford to let the quality of our lessons drop as our potential pupils needed the best possible input from us. Moreover we hoped they would choose to transfer with us at the end of the year!
Curriculum and Teaching Groups
There was no categorising of subjects as being more or less important in the curriculum, no ‘cinderella' subjects. We gave pupils equal access to all parts of the curriculum. Links between subject areas were considered important e.g. Science & Technology, Technology & Art, so the roots of future collaboration were put firmly in place. The Departmental Heads were asked to design their own Lower School curriculum in detail, giving due thought to development in the Upper School of the future. They recommended their preferences for Teaching Groups though there was a stated hope that Mixed Ability (MA) teaching would be used where practical.
English and Drama
We designed a system of MA teaching for the Lower School using a method balancing individual and group work with drama integrated into the English curriculum. We chose the most widely used reading improvement materials in the field, (SRA) to enhance our pupils' reading and comprehension. Reading cards enabled pupils to work through the levels of attainment, with established targets to reach before progression to the next level. This type of approach was particularly suitable for mixed ability groups with the teacher moving round to help struggling pupils. Class activities in which stories and poems were discussed could produce interesting responses. Similarly drama sessions would provide pupils with opportunities to make and discuss improvised and scripted drama. Sets of general purpose English textbooks were unnecessary.
We were keen to develop a love of reading. Though there would be lessons using ‘class readers', each English classroom was to have a wide selection of titles at all levels of readability and some time each week, in lessons and at home, would be spent in silent reading of titles selected from the classroom libraries.
The initial syllabus was traditional for the time, enabling the department to use it as a base for more innovative approaches to meet the needs of an all ability intake, as the school grew in size and age range. The pupils would be taught in sets at first.
The HOD opted for a Combined Approach to science and his views were strengthened by the appointment of Jim Chapman, as Deputy Head, who had taught SCISP science (Schools' Council Integrated Science Project) in his previous school. Both teachers had studied research into the results of this scheme by which pupils were taught to think like scientists, in an organic way, rather than absorb undigested facts; both felt assured that this approach did not prejudice pupils` ability to study separate sciences at 6th Form level in the future. The appointment of John Bruce, skilled in reprographics, to the auxiliary staff was also a bonus for the Science Department as it facilitated the use of a Workbook, designed and produced cheaply within the school, and especially suitable for this teaching method.
Teaching groups were to be in sets. The philosophy followed was that language teachers should never underestimate the ability of any pupil to come to terms with a foreign language, whatever their supposed level of ability.Consequently the Nuffield German Course Vorwarts would be used for lower sets. The course was exactly suited to these pupils` needs and gave them a certain sense of superiority for learning German while everyone else learnt French.Occasionally lessons would link with the work of other departments e.g. with Art or Music.
A meaningful curriculum was planned in terms of Metal, Wood and Plastic materials and also Technical Drawing, for all pupils, pending the appointment of a HOD later. Orders for furniture, equipment, and consumables were placed in consultation with the LEA Adviser and Purchasing Department. The unpacking and racking of all equipment and tools and delivery of machines was prioritised to ensure availability on Day 1 even though this entailed working during the holidays.
Home Economics and Textiles
One of the early manifestations of Equal Opportunities in schools was breaking down the subject barriers between boys and girls. So these subjects would be taught to boys and girls in MA groups. In Home Economics the emphasis would be placed on Food and Nutrition in the Home and there was no resistance to boys learning to cook from parents or pupils. However some was encountered to boys doing textiles, until it was pointed out that using a needle fostered manual coordination and dexterity, even for future surgeons and using an electric/electronic sewing machine might assist future engineers.
Other Subject Areas
The development of precise curricula for other subject areas had to be delayed until HODS were appointed towards the end of the Summer Term.
A great deal of thought was givento ensuring the best possible school experience for our pupils and the development of the ‘whole child'. We decided to have MA Form Groups and whenever possible both Form and Year Tutors would move up the school with their groups. There would be a non-hierarchical method of naming forms, after the first letter of the surname of the Form Tutor, and later on, TAVERH(A)M. However the transfer pupils from HHS would remain in the same banded groups, with tutors and subject teachers they already had, to ensure as little disruption as possible to their Secondary School careers. Discipline would be based on mutual respect between Staff and pupils and an ethos of ‘Consideration for Others' rather than obedience to a negative list of School Rules. We believed that a productive working atmosphere appropriate for the given task would be essential so an orderly but not regimented school was desirable.
As an important aspect of educating the ‘whole child' there would be a planned Social Education programme (PSE) taught whenever practical by Form Tutors. The aim would be to guide pupils towards a growing understanding of themselves, their relationships within the family and with others, health and sexual issues etc. In fact THS became renowned for this aspect of education; both the HOD and the Headteacher were asked to talk about our course at conferences within the County and beyond.
Other Practical Matters
Extra staff were needed for the opening of THS; Jim Chapman (Deputy Head), more HODS and departmental staff. The original team was fully involved in these appointments. The Deputy Head, while still at his previous school, worked on the timetable and also liaised with the HOD of Science. A protracted discussion about School Uniform took place because of the need to consult future parents and also to avoid a clash with the colours of other Norwich schools. Departmental accounting systems had to be designed. Departmental and office equipment including an electric typewriter (this was 30 years ago!), first aid essentials and bed, and crockery etc. for hospitality had to be chosen and purchased, with the full involvement of the ancillary staff who gave willingly of their time. Everyone was prepared to put in hours of extra work to achieve our goal of having everything in place for the pupils` arrival at the beginning of September.
The Summer Holidays were short for all of us that year!
We succeeded and all was in place on time. On day 1 our Transfer Group and New Intake were all lined up before 8.30 am., the latter having been visited in the Feeder Schools and introduced to their future Form Tutors already. Pupilswent immediately to their form rooms and the school had a purposeful atmosphere about it almost immediately. When the Director of Education visited us some 45 minutes later his first question was "Where are the pupils?" When offered a tour of the school, he declined, perhaps because he was bemused that a new school could have settled down so swiftly! As a team we were incredibly thankful that we had ‘made it' and we still feel very privileged to have been involved.
It was the most amazing year of my teaching career.
There is not one of us... who does not feel privileged and quite nostalgic about what was for us the high point of our career.
Most of the original team have been able to contribute to this account and I feel as grateful to them now for their support as I was then. They deserve the highest praise for their loyalty, determination and unremitting hard work which they continued to show and disseminate to new members of staff after the opening of THS in 1979.