Prior to the opening of Balsall Street Council School in 1913, the only school in Balsall Common was the small fee paying school in Holly Lane, which was attached to St Peters. This school had been in operation since 1875, but by 1900 a new larger school was needed.
On Monday, September 22nd 1913 the new school was opened. The headteacher was Mr William J.E. Seeley and his staff comprised Miss C. Berry, Miss L. Gurney and Mrs M. Manners. That first day they had only 59 children, but the numbers soon grew and by Christmas there were 116 “scholars”, some under the age of 5. The school took children up to 14 years. Nature study rambles were taken weekly by the children and in addition, the older boys had gardening lessons and were then set to work picking stones and levelling the ground in the new garden. The boys seem to have been extremely useful during these early months “For several weeks during Gardening and Organised Games lessons the upper boys have been filling up a large gravel pit in the football field.” (Log Book Jan 19th 1914) They later went on to plant potatoes, carrots, peas and two kinds of onions!
They did, however, take part in other lessons – including a woodwork course in the new Handicraft Centre, the girls studied cookery there. Pupils were regularly tested in arithmetic and composition and in addition practised “drill” and learned some history and geography, some of it related to current affairs. Mr Seeley’s entry for June 14th 1915: “As Italy has recently joined the Great War, the First Class have been having special lessons on the Geography & History of that country, and studying the same in their text-books.”
The log book for this period is full of numerous visits from inspectors and school managers (governors). The number of pupils continued to grow and the number of teachers increased – although many did not stay for very long. Pupils’ attendance fluctuated - the medical history of the times is indicated by the number of cases of scarlet fever, TB, measles, mumps, diphtheria and influenza.
Mr Seeley continued as headteacher throughout the period of the First World War, and records the way the children were told of the signing of the armistice: “The good news was announced in the classrooms and hearty cheers given.” This was followed by the children being assembled in the playground where they sang the national anthem.
Mr Seeley was praised in the school’s first HMI Report of 1921 “ The English work of the school ... is unusually good, and a love of poetry and reading in general is well developed. The Head Master’s influence is felt throughout the school especially in this important subject”. The numbers on role continued to increase although individual children and families seemed to come and go on a regular basis. The school needed more space and work finally began in 1930 to provide alterations. Mr Seeley’s comments in the log book show something of his sense of humour: “and it has taken 2 years, 4 months to make an actual start. (Shades of the Circumlocution Office, festooned with red-tape cob webs!)”
One of the significant events celebrated during the interwar years was the Silver Jubilee of King George V. This “was celebrated at the school on 6th May, 1935... First took place a Pageant of Empire, decorated wagons conveying parties of children – dressed to represent people in different parts of the Empire – from different parts of the Parish. All assembled in the school play-ground, with a good concourse of parents, round the flag-staff, and sung the “National Anthem” & “Jerusalem”, & gave cheers for the King, Queen & Royal Family.” They had a “good tea” and used their souvenir mugs. They were all given balloons and the sports finals took place with many “valuable prizes for the winners”. During the week a prefect planted a Jubilee Oak in the school field to commemorate the day.
The War Years
Mr Seeley did in fact remain as head master throughout the World War2. At the outbreak of the war the school building was shared by evacuated Coventry school children. The Balsall children used the school in the mornings and the Coventry children in the afternoons, until furniture arrived from Coventry so that the evacuees could be taught in the science and art rooms. The school was open for the use of the evacuee children and their teachers as a play centre during the Christmas holidays.
During November 1940 the school was closed for a week as it was used by 124 homeless Coventry evacuees. After the school re-opened the large number of unofficial evacuees wishing for places necessitated a new class being formed. Although thought to be relatively safe from the bombings being suffered by Coventry, Mr Seeley writes: “many incendiary and several high explosive bombs fell near the school...& a large shell burst in the hedge in front of the school; the only damage was to tiles”. The buildings were again used for evacuees in April 1941 “the Manual Room was used as a dormitory for “bombed” people from Coventry”.
The school supported the war effort in other ways too – there were numerous fund raising enterprises including “Warships Week” which raised £1541-10-6 and “Salute the Soldier Week” which raised £2596. The school was devoted to jam making on a regular basis and the gardens were used to produce vegetables. The girls made knitted “comforts” – gloves, socks and jerseys for the merchant navy.
Attendance at school seems to have been badly affected by illness, air raids, bad weather and potato picking! Boys and girls were needed to work in the fields from time to time – particularly for potato harvesting every October. Balsall Common was, after all, a very rural community then.
At the end of the war Mr Seeley records a visit from the members of Fredrick Bird Boys’ School in Coventry – a teacher and the four House Captains. They came to plant a memorial tree in the garden as a token of appreciation for when the school housed scholars and teachers as evacuees during the blitz.
Mr Seeley’s last entry in the log book was on 31st December 1945. “With regret and a very sad heart I conclude my main life- work and hand over to my successor Mr E Booen, whom I wish the greatest success and many happy years as H.T. of this school”.
A New Headmaster
Mr Booen began by introducing the house system “The Managers have kindly and generously offered the School a Cup for Inter House Competitions”. He then went on to record the number of house points gained – usually in the thousands! Sports competitions were held between the houses and photographs of the members of the houses were taken.
By 1950 the number of pupils had increased again from 220 in 1946 to 320. The HMI Report for 1950 states that the greatest need is for an assembly hall (although there were no staff toilets either!) The inspector applauds the fact that the boys in the top class spend 90 minutes a week in the garden, but “the girls give an undue proportion of their time to needlework”. He recognises that the “schemes of work in all subjects embody some sound and progressive ideas... The impression left on the visitor is of a happy and hard working community in which a genuine attempt is being made to fit the pattern of education to the pupils”.
The teachers began to run extra-curricular activities such as the music club which undertook excursions to concerts, opera and ballet.” The school was involved in many sports competitions – football, netball, cricket, rounders and there were many educational visits such as those to London, Woburn Abbey and Whipsnade Zoo.
New equipment was purchased including “a sound projector, a gramophone and automatic record changer, and in 1957 the question of school uniform was decided upon with “red and grey the dominant colours”.
The school numbers increased markedly during the 1950s and 1960s. By 1957 there were nearly 500 on role. The PTA began making a considerable impact on the school, and the Summer Fair of 1967 was opened by comedian Roy Hudd. It raised a large sum (about £300) which contributed, along with other fund raising activities such as rummage sales, to the funding of the swimming pool which was officially opened on Tuesday May 12th 1970.
Mr Booen retired as headmaster in 1973 after 27 years. “This is my last entry as head of this school and I must pay tribute to Managers, Staff, Pupils and Patents for the considerable cooperation I have had over the past 27 yrs 9mth during which I have been the schools’ headmaster and taking up my pen I leave my successor Mr Buckle my very best wishes for his future here. It is with a very heavy heart that I close this book.”
Mr Buckle Becomes Headmaster
Mr James Arnold Buckle began as headmaster in September 1973. He reported that he found the staff “extremely co-operative and the children friendly, relaxed and converse easily and sensibly”. One of the first matters Mr Buckle was involved with was the transfer of the school from Warwickshire to the Solihull Local Authority. During this period the log book records many meetings with the Director of Education for Solihull.
The school continued its long tradition of music with attendance at concerts and workshops and with its own performances. The school had both an orchestra and a choir. The children also attended theatre visits such as the one at the Belgrade Theatre of “Ice Station Zero 1”. Educational visits continued and included a visit to Bath and a weekend Youth Hostelling in the Peak District. Some children attended the music course at Dunfield House.
By 1978 there were 545 children on role and the children had to be accommodated in seven temporary classrooms whilst the school was remodelled to include a nursery unit. The cost was £358000 and the work was carried out by building company of the school’s first head boy (Deeley Construction Ltd). The transformed school was re-opened in 1979.
Mr Trevor Davies Becomes Headteacher
Trevor Davies became headteacher of the school in 1986, though his links with the school began much earlier. He had been a pupil at the Heart of England school and visited the primary school for metalwork lessons in the large brick-built workshop which stood approximately where the headteacher’s office stands today, and to visit the dental caravan!
The school went from strength to strength under Mr Davies’ energetic leadership. The aim was always to bring the quality of the buildings and grounds up to the highest possible specification. During Mr Davies’ 22 years at the school there was an extension made to the front of the school, providing 2 new classrooms, and a new wing was added to the back of the building to form an area for 5 new classrooms for years 3 and 4, a new studio for dance and drama, and a “theatre” with staged seating so that children could have lessons which used video projectors etc. This was before the advent of the interactive whiteboard! A new ICT suite was built and the school provided truly first rate learning environment for its pupils and staff.
The PTA flourished with Mr Davies’ leadership and over the years has raised staggering amounts of money for a huge variety of projects. Fund raising activities included the many sponsored “Big Swims” in which the school pool was occupied for whole weekends when children, parents and teachers swam around the country and then the world! The school Christmas Fayre and Gala Days provided fun for all the community and raised many thousands of pounds too! Mr Davies’ PTA quiz nights were legendary – and the questions were always challenging!
The curriculum was developed during this period and the school became a leader in curriculum design, being part of the 2007 HMI review of outstanding schools and sharing its expertise with huge numbers of schools up and down the country. It became one of the foremost primary schools in the country in ICT winning the primary category in the BECTA ICT awards. It was also one of the first to embed MFL teaching into the primary school curriculum teaching French to all children from year 2 onwards, long before advice to do so was received from the government.
Trevor Davies retired from the school in 2008, after 22 successful years as headteacher.
A New Headteacher, April 2009
In September 2020, trustees began to focus on the development of centralised services within CST and appointed one of the Assistant Headteachers, Mrs Mel Brown, as the Acting Headteacher, thus enabling Mr Burgess to focus on the strategic leadership of the trust.
During the course of the next two years, Mrs Brown led the school brilliantly through the COVID-19 Pandemic and completely re-wrote the curriculum.
In July 2022, Mrs Brown successfully secured a permanent headship and, after many successful years at the school, moved on from the trust.
Mr Burgess and the two Assistant headteachers, Mr Ireland and Miss Bains, led the school during the interim period in the Autumn Term of 2022, whilst awaiting the arrival of the newly appointed headteacher, Mr Mark Mitchell, took up the substantive headteacher post in January 2023.
Mr Burgess remains in post as the Chief Executive Officer of the trust.
School Log Books 1913 – 1973
Reports to Managers 1913 -1946
Balsall Street School The First 75 Years 1913 -1988 by Caroline A Jones