Tunstall Girls’ High School – Pioneering girls’ education in The Potteries

In the early 1920s, Stoke-on-Trent councillors accepted the view of leading educationalists that selected entry grammar schools would give academically gifted working-class children an opportunity to make their way in the world.

Hanley and Longton already had grammar schools and the council made plans to build two girls’ grammar schools, when it had the money.

As a temporary measure, Tunstall High School for Girls was opened on January 1st, 1922. Housed in the Jubilee Buildings in Station Road (The Boulevard), the school had 90 pupils whose parents had to pay for their education.

The fees charged were three guineas a year for a girl living in Stoke-on-Trent and five guineas for one residing outside the area.

Many working-class parents in The Potteries could not afford to pay for their children’s education or to keep them at school when they could be going to work earning money.

Poverty was frustrating the local authority’s scheme.

In June 1922, the council introduced exhibitions which enabled it to pay the school fees of elementary school pupils who had been awarded grammar school places and give them maintenance grants and travelling expenses.

Financial help was given to 45 children attending local grammar schools – 23 of whom were girls attending Tunstall High.

Girls wore a uniform consisting of a brown pleated tunic, a shantung silk blouse, a brown blazer and a brown hat with a metal badge illustrating the tree of knowledge below which was printed the school’s motto, “I serve”.

The school hymn “Pioneers” showed that the headmistress, Miss Wilmott, and her staff believed they were embarking on an educational experiment – an experiment that would challenge accepted ideas and enable working-class girls to go to university or teacher training college.

From 1925 onwards, pupils were entered for external examinations.

Tunstall High School’s pass rate was much higher than the national average. It quickly became recognised as a centre of excellence. Betty Johnson was the first pupil to obtain a degree. She read English at Manchester University and graduated in 1929.

Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2013

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