| Early Days at Priory Community School - By Arthur Spencer (Click here to view).
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Mini School on Worle School site...
Priory Community School was opened as a “mini school” in temporary huts on the car park of Worle School in September 1975.
The school started with only one year group – the first year. The first Head of the school – Arthur Spencer did not take up his post until September 1976, the start of the school’s second year.
The move to the new site
In September 1977 the school moved to its new purpose built site on Queensway (named to commemorate the Queens Silver Jubilee), though some buildings were not ready on time and for half a term one year group continued to be taught in the old huts at Worle School.
Each year from 1975 to 1979 the school continued to grow as each new first year group was added. During this period some additional new buildings were opened – the Maths / English block, the Sports Hall, the back dining room, an additional science lab and some additional tennis courts.
The first leavers and the development of housing around the school
In 1980 the first ever students to join the school left at the end of their fifth year – there were now about 180 of them – a third more than had started the school in 1975.
The second year group to leave the school presented the school with an aerial photo to mark their departure. The photo below shows how the school was very much on the edge of Weston – there were no houses around the school and Sainsbury’s supermarket had only recently been built.
By the time the second aerial photo (below) was taken in the mid 1980s, houses had been built on two sides of the school – accessed by the new Wansborough Road and causing the school entrance to be moved from Queenway to Wansborough Road (in 2005 this was reversed when a new one way system through the school was introduced).
All these new houses and other demographic trends meant that the numbers of students coming to the school increased, with year groups taking 240 students. Pressures on accommodation meant that many of the Worle School site huts were moved to Priory to accommodate the extra students – this was meant to be a temporary measure!
An innovative school attracting many visitors
In its early years the school received many visitors from many parts of the world – drawn by its innovative curriculum and timetable. The faculty blocked timetable allowed faculties to have timetabled faculty meetings, to arrange their half year of groups as they wised – in sets or mixed ability groups, while lead lessons for the whole half year group were a common feature in Social Education and Humanities. Both of those faculties also attracted attention because of their innovative curriculum.
The innovative nature of the school attracted the Open University to make an educational management TV programme and study module. This brought more fame to the school – and more visitors.
Another feature of the school in its early years was the age of the staff – most of the early appointments were of teachers in their 20s or early 30s with only a few older staff. Many of these new staff went on to take up promoted positions – at Priory and elsewhere. There are probably few schools that can boast of producing from its former staff: two Directors of Education, an Assistant Director of Education, a large number of LEA Advisers, about a dozen secondary Headteachers and a larger group of Deputy Heads.
Retirement of the first Headteacher
In 1985 the first Head of the school Arthur Spencer retired from his post. A large celebration at school in July of that year saw many invited guests come to pay their tributes to his leadership.
Deputy Head, David Dennis became the Acting Head and subsequently the permanent Headteacher – a post he held until his retirement in April 2000. Over a two year period from 1985 to 1987 a new Senior Staff team was established as Barbara Lambert, David Oldroyd and Dave Pitts moved on to take up posts elsewhere. Their places were taken by Jan Richards, Chris Dickenson, John Saunders and Ron Richards.
Student numbers decline
During the 1990s, in common with most areas in the country, student numbers declined – with Priory reaching its smallest student numbers of less than 900 students by the late 1990s.
While there was some limited new house building between North Worle and St Georges it was not a significant factor in bringing new students and the next period of expansion would not develop until the late 1990s with the construction of the new link road into Weston and the re-alignment of Queensway and the extension of the shopping complex onto the former Priory playing fields. While the temporary loss of playing fields was disruptive for the school it did provide the trigger for expansion and new buildings (described below).
A Community School
The County of Avon Education Authority had for many years been reluctant to introduce community schools. The combination of Local Management of Schools, which gave Governors full control of their facilities and the shift of responsibility to the new Unitary Authorities provided the impetus which allowed Priory to take on its status as a “Community School” in 1995 – the first school in the county to do so.
Applications for funding to the Sports Council, Woodspring District Council, the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, and the Lawn Tennis Association were successful in providing finance to build new high quality floodlit tennis courts, a floodlit multi games area, a Sports Development Officer and a professional tennis coach. These allowed significant expansion of community use – particularly in sport.
Lifelong Learning provision was enhanced by the establishment of the Priory Lifelong Learning Association, funding from the National Lottery and the appointment (from Technology College funds) of a Community Lifelong Learning Coordinator.
When expansion of the school site took place eventually in 2003, it allowed the construction of a Community Lifelong Learning Centre – allowing adults to take part in courses during the day, as well as during out of school hours.
Further innovation took place when the school established a playgroup (now Priory Pre-School) on site over 20 years ago and subsequently the Priory Activities Club – child care facilities available after school each day and every day during school holidays.
Priory was the first school in North Somerset to gain specialist status when it was successful in its application to be a Technology College from September 1998.
It had to raise over £100,000 in sponsorship, which it managed through contributions by SWEB, Technology Colleges Trust, GKN Westlands, Smurfit, Research Machines, Boxford and LJ Technical Services.
At the time of its bid, Priory gained some opposition from other schools in the authority – but now all schools in North Somerset are specialist schools.
David Dennis retires
In April 2000, the school’s second Headteacher: David Dennis retired after 15 years as Head and nearly 25 years employment at the school. As with Arthur Spencer’s retirement 15 years earlier there were many former colleagues who returned to celebrate all the successes of the school under David’s period of leadership.
Deputy Head, Ron Richards was Acting Head for the summer term 2000 and Paul MacIntyre became the schools third substantive Head when he took up his post in September 2000, having previously been an Assistant Principal in Leicestershire.
The decline in student numbers in the 1990s was about to be reversed as huge building developments took place in North Worle and Locking Castle. North Somerset Council needed additional capacity in its secondary schools, while Priory was also making its claim for expansion and improvement – there had been no significant investment in the site since the 1970s.
The first major development affected the playing fields. For many years there had been plans to divert Queensway across the school playing fields and to take over additional land for new playing fields. The various planning agreements then allowed further house building to take place in North Worle. While these changes had been planned for a number of years they were brought into sharp focus by the need (in 1996) for North Somerset to find funds to rebuild Broadoak School – falling down due to “concrete cancer”. The solution was the sale of the Priory land. The planning details and the land swop deals were complicated and it was not until 2001 that Priory lost its playing fields to the new Queensway and to the MacDonalds restaurant and Homebase.
It was a difficult three year period for the PE staff and the students, but the end result was the provision of a floodlit artificial turf pitch, three new floodlit tennis courts / multi games area and a large new area of high quality and properly drained playing field with seven pitches, two cricket wickets and cricket nets. The facilities are the envy of other schools and have made a huge contribution to the well deserved reputation that the school has for its sporting provision.
There are still hopes that a bid for funding to the Football Foundation will be successful and that this could be added to funding held by North Somerset to build a new Community Sports Centre at Priory.
Between 2000 and 2003 negotiations with North Somerset resulted in the first major investment in the buildings for 25 years. In order to allow the school to grow from less than 1000 students to a capacity of 1200 new buildings had to be provided.
In the summer of 2003 a new English block was built, allowing Maths, ICT and Lifelong Learning to expand into the old English Rooms. In addition a new reception area and expanded main office was provided, along with additional dining spaces, an extra science lab and DT room.
At the same time plans were put in place to appoint architects and builders to provide a new main block, a four classroom extension to the Humanities block, a Sixth Form Centre and a new Design Technology Faculty base.
Construction began in August 2005 with the Humanities block being opened in June 2006, the new main block (reception, main office, music department, leadership team offices, school hall and English Faculty) and the Sixth Form block in use in September 2006. The area that used to be the Lecture Theatre, Drama Studio, Stage, D11 and Music Rooms is being turned into the new DT Block and a Drama Studio and should be ready in February 2007, after which most of the “temporary huts” will be removed and the final landscaping will take place.
The school now has over 1180 students, close to its capacity of 1200 and they are housed in much improved, modern facilities.
In early November 2005, current and former students and staff and many others joined together at the funeral of Lois Scriven, to celebrate her life in a musical tribute and to give thanks for her huge contribution to the lives of so many Priory students as Head of Music from 1976 to 2005. It is such a pity that the new facilities that Lois fought so hard for over the years have been provided after her death, but it is testament to her contribution that so many will remember her with great love, affection and gratitude.
Change of Headteacher and Leadership Team
In December 2003, Paul MacIntyre left Priory to take up a second Headship at Chenderit School in Northamptonshire.
His place was taken by Ron Richards, first as Acting Head and subsequently from September 2004 as substantive Head.
Appointments were subsequently made to the Leadership Team, which as a result was made up of:
Ron Richards Head
Chris Hunt Deputy Head, Quality and Curriculum
Neville Coles Deputy Head, Director of Learning
Denise Richards Assistant Head, KS4
Jo Simons Assistant Head, KS3
Terry Brown Assistant Head, KS5
Martin Kerslake Business Manager
Sarah Gibbon Data Manager
An Innovative School
A constant feature of Priory over the years has been the willingness of the Leadership Team and the staff to encourage and embrace innovation.
In recent years the school has been acknowledged for its good practice and innovation in the development of Learning and Teaching, Initial Teacher Training, CPD, use of ICT and in its commitment to working with others – in particular the innovative Weston Education Partnership (WEP) – a federation of the secondary and special schools in Weston.
After nearly 30 years of campaigning by parents and staff, Priory now has a Sixth Form – students from Weston College study at Priory in the new Weston College Sixth Form Centre at Priory Community School as part of the partnership between Weston College and the secondary schools.
Priory has twice been recognised for the quality of its curriculum and community links by the granting of the Schools Curriculum Award.
The quality of its leadership and management and its work with staff has been recognised three times by Investors in People (IiP), with the most recent award in December 2005 standing out with very high grades on the new profile.
Finally, in October 2006 Ofsted Inspectors described the school as a “good and improving school”. This provided well deserved recognition for the efforts of the staff who have provided high quality learning experiences for students in an ethos of high quality support and guidance, ensuring that levels of achievement are improving and continue to improve.
Early Days at Priory Community School
By Arthur Spencer (Head of Priory 1976 to 1985)
The first Head of Priory School always claims that he made only two decisions unilaterally when he was appointed to the Headship of Priory School; firstly that there should be a Faculty of Social Education with its own Head of Faculty and full-time teaching staff, teaching throughout all five years groups for which the School would eventually cater; secondly, that the Pastoral ’barons’ should have the same status and therefore be paid on the same scale (then Burnham Scale 4) as the Heads of the academic faculties. If they were not the only decisions (Faculty Structure implemented by Block Timetable? - certainly not all that common in the mid-1970s), they were certainly very early ones, taken on his way back to Bristol after his appointment interview (at which he was, after eighteen years as a Deputy Head, by far the oldest candidate!). Incidentally, he was so busy thinking about this on his way home, that he forgot to leave the Motorway at Junction 18, Avonmouth, and had to go on to Cribbs Causeway before backtracking to Henleaze!
The first decision was probably influenced by his experience as Deputy - and therefore day-to-day organiser - at Castle School, Thornbury, an innovative school where the then Local Authority, Gloucestershire, pioneered much work in what was then called Personal and Social Education. Since this subject was merely tacked on at Fourth and Fifth year level, drew staff from a variety of different disciplines, and was taught in half-class groups, it posed considerable organisational problems. It seemed that if one could unite PSE with Careers Education, Community Service, and Physical Education, a viable Faculty could be created, and take its place alongside the other more traditional subject areas. In fact, the School was lucky enough to secure as its first Head of Faculty of Social Education the services of Ron Richards, the present Head. Also prominent in the early work of the Faculty were the School’s first two Senior Mistresses (if one dare use such a term in the twenty-first century) - Ruth Wright and Barbara Lambert, while Andy Morris and Viv Bath built up a strong Careers programme, and Mike Legg and Jane Humphries led strong teams of Physical Education teachers
The second decision was influenced by the importance the new Head attached to the Pastoral side of the School’s life, and the important part that the Form Tutor and the Head of Year played in every pupil’s life.
When the School moved to its new buildings in 1977, they leant themselves to the Faculty and Year Group structure, although the first Head had no influence whatsoever on the first stage of the School’s buildings. Each Faculty had a Head of Faculty’s office, a telephone, and a small resource area, primitive by today’s standards, but undreamt of in an earlier generation of schools. Each Year group had a dining/social area where the Head of Year reigned supreme, had an office with a telephone, and was encouraged to develop a Year Group ethos. Meals were served to the dining areas from a central school kitchen.
The School’s innovative outlook attracted not only many visitors - already mentioned in the existing history - but ensured that when teaching posts were advertised, very strong short lists could be compiled from a large number of applicants, many of whom referred to E323, the Open University course which had used the School as a case-study school for the Unit on School Management. When the School had grown to the size to qualify for the appointment of a third Deputy Head, over 250 applications were received, many of such calibre that the Head, Deputies, and Chairman of Governors, found it very difficult to whittle the number down to a manageable short-list.
It may be worth mentioning that the policy of the L.E.A., Avon, was to appoint School Governors in exactly the same proportion as seats were held by the different political parties on the County Council, so that each new election might bring a wholesale change of Governors. In some areas of the authority, every Governors’ meeting became a political dogfight. Fortunately, at Priory, we were blessed with two Chairmen, one from the left, and one from the right, who were strong enough not to allow this to happen. The School was also fortunate in its first pastoral adviser - the back-door route to the Authority; he was Frank Robinson, the second Music Adviser.
Head of Priory School 1976 to 1985