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End of an era...


After only 19 years in existence, Ryhope Comprehensive School finally closed its doors for the last time in July 1988.


A lot has been said as to why the school was allowed such demise and the injustice it had to fight throughout its life but they can never take away the fond memories of Staff and Pupils who attended this institution.


We leave the last word to an article from the local newspaper:


Sunderland Echo Wednesday July 6th 1988


THE SOUND of the bell signalling the end of the day's lessons will echo through the corridors of Ryhope School for the very last time on Friday, July 22.


For after 77 years filled with the buzz of young voices and the clatter of feet rushing from classroom to classroom, the old building will fall silent – a victim of falling rolls and the local authority's cost-cutting axe.


Stomachs churning with nerves and anticipation, the school's first ever intake of pupils – 74 boys and 81 girls – arrived for lessons of September 16, 1911.


They were the first to attend classes at the school that over the next three quarters of a century was to set new standards and break new ground in its constant efforts to advance secondary education.


The intake increased steadily after the first year, but the smooth day-to-day running of the school under its first headmaster Ralph Williams was to be shattered by the outbreak of war in 1914.


Rationing was enforced, school supplies ran low and senior boys went off to fight for their Kings and country, 14 never to return.


It was the second World War that saw the arrival of the school's second headmaster Stanley Graham.


He recounted his vivid recollections of his first visit to Ryhope in his Golden Jubilee address to the school in 1961.


He said:  "Visiting Ryhope for the first time in the summer of 1940 was an unusual experience and what newly appointed headmaster could think otherwise?


"Arriving by special invitation early in the afternoon, I found the school completely deserted, barrage balloons flying high, fighter aircraft overhead and masters and boys in the air raid shelters."


During this war 34 Ryhope Old Boys lost their lives and 15 were decorated while back at home pupils did "their bit" for the war effort when the school became the first in the region to form a unit of the Air Training Corps.


Not all the school's innovations were as well received – a decision by the school governors to omit the singing of the national anthem at the 1932 speech-day had been greeted with public outcry.


The early 30s were a time of change for the school.  From 1929, the number of girls attending declined through the opening of nearby Seaham Girls Grammar and in 1933, Ryhope became an all-boys school.


The loss of female students was mourned by one master who claimed they were harder workers and produced better examination results than the boys.


The school's first headmaster, Ralph Williams – just one of three during its 77-year history – made it renowned for its academic grind.


The silver


His reputed dislike for games was recalled by many pupils, although one master remembers the head treating him to a demonstration with a coal shovel of a famous batsman's strokes in his study.


In 1936, the school celebrated its Silver Jubilee, unaware that the next quarter century was to see many more changes.


The previous year Ryhope Modern opened its doors across the road as demand for school places rose.


In 1962, Ryhope Grammar School was extended as girls were once again admitted to the school.


But it was 1969 and the advent of comprehensive education that was to open the most controversial chapter in the school's history.


September 2, 1969, saw Ryhope School's new headmaster Dick Copland acting as lollipop lady t the latest intake of pupils.


He said: "Ryhope Grammar School and Ryhope Modern across the road had been amalgamated, but the foot-bridge had not yet been built".


But before he took his first class at the school Mr Copland, who is still at the head of the school today despite attempts to despose him, had already broken new ground.


He said: "Before I started at Ryhope, I was asked to submit a list for staff organisation and I put down a careers teacher as a requirement.


"The Deputy Director of Education at the time said "over my dead body" – but the school won.


"That was my first battle and we went from strength to strength".


But it was Mr Copland's decision to ban corporal punishment that saw him with a real fight on his hands and almost forced him to quit as head of the school.


He said: "Right from day one, I abolished corporal punishment.  I explained to my staff I was in favour of courtesy and consideration, but that there were ways other than using corporal punishment to get it.


"No one will learn satisfactorily if they are fearful or afraid.  They have got to feel secure and there has to be mutual respect."


The abolition of the cane resulted in a chain of events that led to the then Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph ordering an investigation into the running of the school and its discipline.


The school governors then told Mr Copland that unless he adopted an 18-point programme which influenced the school's policy, they would meet to consider his suitability to continue as head of the school.


Mr Copland accepted the board of governors' proposals for the future running of the school.


He said: "It was a very demanding time for me physically and mentally.  I was lucky to have the support of my family, many of the teachers, people from the community and many of the pupils to help me through."


"I still maintain it is up to each adult to measure for themselves the value of their education and I hope the lessons that former pupils have learned have been of value to them."


Looking back over the history of the school, Mr Copland hopes it is not the "troubles" that people remember, but some of the many high spots and great achievements for which the school also made its name over recent years.


The school's innovative curriculum is one of the things the Head is most pleased about.


Ryhope was champion of sexual equality in the classroom and won awards for its efforts to give both boys and girls equal opportunities in all subjects.


Subjects such as Motor Vehicle Studies and Rural Science were introduced to the timetable and pupils were encouraged to develop as people – school uniform was abolished and pupils were encouraged to put forward their views on the running of the school.


Mr Copeland has three thick files of press clippings detailing the achievement of pupils, past and present and it is these achievements he would like to see the school remembered for.


Most of the column inches, in both the local and national press, are devoted to the event Ryhope School is perhaps best know for – its momentous production of the rock-operas Tommy and Stardust under the guidance of drama teacher Malcolm Gerrie, who went on to produce The Tube.


Mr Copland recalled the staff meeting at which the final details of the production of Tommy were resolved. 


"At that time, tickets for the school productions were 10p or 15p in more affluent areas.


"A deathly silence fell when Malcolm suggested charging 50p for Tommy, but on the first night, tickets were changing hands at £2 each and we had a long queue outside the school".


The school's next production; Stardust was to attract not just the attention of the folk of Ryhope.  It wasn't long before the national press focussed its attention to the musical, and TV crews arrived at the school.


The rock opera Stardust became the subject of an Aquarius documentary – the programme that was the forerunner of today's South Bank Show.


The spirit that saw the school launch itself headlong into these ambitious productions still prevails at the school despite the fact that this term is the last.


Mr Copland: "I asked staff at the beginning of the year that we were by no means to approach it as period of winding-down.  We have put as much effort into it as in previous years and so far, it has proved one of the most productive.


The capsule


"So many people have put so much into the school towards the development of education, we want it to finish strongly."


To ensure the school's memory lives on after its final day, parents, pupils and staff are now collecting information to place in a time capsule.


The school has been divided into working teams with the target of discovering and recording details of the school, its pupils and Ryhope community.


It will include two video films and interviews with locals.  Sunderland museum will lock in this "living" text-book in a capsule for 50 years.


So as the old school bell rings for the last time, Ryhope School will go out with a bang and not a whimper!




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