Old Monovians Association; History of the School

Comprehensive education; 1968 - 1988

The idea of the comprehensive, or multilateral school, was not a new one. It was considered by, and strongly recommended to the Spens Committee of 1933/8, but rejected in favour of the tri-partite system by the Education Act of 1944. During the 1960s, it became Labour Party policy to promote comprehensive education, and in 1965 local authorities were instructed by the Ministry of Education to provide plans for comprehensive reorganisation soon after the accession to power of the Labour Government. The Eleven Plus examination had been abolished in 1965, and thereafter selection for the Monoux school was carried out on the basis of reports from primary schools

The transition of the Monoux School from high-achieving selective school to neighbourhood comprehensive was not altogether straightforward. There had been planning leading up to the change, and steps had been taken to ease the transition, but the political uncertainty engendered by the change of control of Waltham Forest Town Hall in May 1968 must have signalled a possible unravelling of the plans. That, in fact, did not happen; the only way in which the Monoux school was treated differently was that alone of Waltham Forest secondary schools, the suffix "Senior High" was not added to its name, which therefore became "Sir George Monoux School". There were extensions to the buildings completed in 1970, at the rear and to the north of the 1927 building.

The change was made against the professional advice of the head teachers of the two Walthamstow grammar schools, though it is fair to point out that educational opinion elsewhere, and from the Chief Education Officer, was in favour of the change. A joint memorandum from Vincent Stirrup and Phyllis Taylor, headmistress of the Girls' High School, dated 18 November 1965, had pointed out a number of disadvantages. Foremost among these was the likely reduction in sixth form numbers, and non-viability of minority subjects, the reduction of the geographical intake, the curtailment of parental choice of school supposed to be afforded by Section 76 of the 1944 Education Act (this was to become a major factor in the reforms of 20 years later), the difficulty of coping in a small unit with very wide ability ranges, and difficulty in maintaining the momentum of learning.

The changes were deferred until 1968, but no significant changes were made to the original proposals. The intake in September 1968 was at 4th form - 14+ -- level, because the comprehensive system chosen by the Council was the Leicestershire model, with a two-tier arrangement, with transfers to a junior high school at 11 and a senior at 14. The single-sex
arrangement was kept where it already existed. For those boys who stayed on after O level, a sixth form remained at Monoux and the other senior highs. The two schools that fed Monoux were principally Warwick and Chapel End, former secondary moderns, whose catchment areas took in much of the Chapel End/Wood Street districts. The bulk of boys at Monoux in the 60s had tended to come from Chingford and Highams Park, which after 1968 were catered for by junior highs at Wellington Avenue and Heathcote, and senior schools at Nevin Drive and Highams Park. The Leicestershire system had been chosen principally because the physical arrangement of the educational estate in Waltham Forest did not permit the establishment of the very large buildings needed for 1000+-pupil straight through comprehensives. The Government's Circular 10/65, which was the basis of instructing LEAs to adopt the comprehensive model, and the authority's own professional advice, saw such schemes as purely temporary. Detractors of the Waltham Forest scheme saw the uncertainty this engendered as a further disadvantage.

The six forms taken on in 1968 excluded "non-exam" bands - that is, boys who would not be entered for GCSE or GCE
examinations at all. These boys were kept at their previous schools. But the range of ability was still very much wider than had been known previously. Teaching was still, for the most part, in the hands of the grammar school masters, who, despite some retraining, had little experience of the techniques necessary for these ability bands. The remaining grammar school students and the sixth form, by now 150 strong, occupied much of their attention. The first two terms of the 1968-69 academic year were therefore times of great challenge and some tension for the school. Numbers would eventually increase from 600 to l,000.

In 1970, the last of the junior forms had reached 14+, but it was 1974 before the last of the 11+ grammar school intake had left the Upper Sixth. In 1971, Vincent Stirrup left the school, having reached the age of 65, and having completed 23 years as headmaster. Arthur Jenkins, his deputy, stood in for a year until the new Head, Allan Brockman, himself an Old Monovian, took over.

The five years after reorganisation saw many other changes. A science block was erected on the former tennis courts. In the
main building, the library was removed from its panelled room in the centre of the upper floor to the old junior chemistry laboratory. More important, Vincent Stirrup retired in the 24th year of his headmastership. The years 1948-71 were ones of exceptional vigour and achievement, and in no small measure that must be to the lasting credit of Mr Stirrup and the staff he led.

The Leicestershire system served Waltham Forest - as fashions in educational thinking always seem to last - for some 20 years. The reorganisation of the two tiers was talked about almost as soon as it had started, because of the alleged disruptive nature of the move at 14, and the strange flows of children it engendered. At one time, for instance, several
hundred senior schoolchildren would be boarding a train at Chingford to go to Highams Park, to be met by an equal number of their junior confederates waiting on Highams Park station platform en route to Chingford. These were co-educational schools, but the Monoux and Walthamstow High remained single-sex.

Many more ancillary staff were provided to cope with routine jobs which once had to be done by the teaching staff, and to help with innovations such as audio-visual equipment. The house system was developed into a pastoral structure, and there were two rather than one deputy head.

1988 was the year of further reorganisation. That was the last 14+ intake to Monoux, but the boys were actually taught in the Chapel End school building, except for games and PE, for which they walked to Chingford Road.