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The writing on the lavatory walls got better when Ryhope School

went Comprehensive. That is, it got more interesting.


Other things happened, too.  Pupils hurried around the once sedate

corridors; sixth-form boys grew their hair beyond the collar and

sixth-form girls donned shiny lipstick; uniform began to be not quite so.


That wasn’t all.  A kindly, unofficial sort of man took up residence in the headmaster’s office.  He got to know his pupils on Christian-name terms and he initiated a school council to let older students advise on school affairs.


He abolished prefects, too – and the old head-boy, head-girl system.  And now, when he’s asked about school rules, he says: “I don’t think there are any, as such”.


He points out quickly that he means there are no written rules, that instructions to pupils just concern common-sense things like not playing football in the yard.  Windows, he told them apologetically, tend to get broken.




And that’s about it.  Except for the bridge, of course.  When Ryhope Grammar and Ryhope Secondary – two schools that faced each other across the busy A19 – got their Comprehensive orders a year ago, the built a bridge to link them.


“Please, miss, ordinary people use the road,” a second-former told    as I mounted the iron steps to cross.  However, I felt it was up to me not to show a wilful disregard for Ryhope School’s only rule.


Headmaster Richard Copland admits it all caused quite a stir.  Now he can smile about rumours that ran rife in this little town outside Sunderland a few months back.  But tales that the school children called him Dick and that he ran a crèche for sixth-form mother took some living down.  His idea are unusual, people now realise, but not unacceptable.


He puts the incredible mutterings down to the Comprehensive shock. 

“Some people think that three dreadful things have happened to Ryhope”, Mr Copland grins, “The pit closed in 1966; Ryhope was taken from Durham County into Sunderland in 1967; and the grammar school was cut out in 1968”.


There a quite a few hundred people who think rather differently, however, the pupils who live, move and have their being in Ryhope Comprehensive.


Happiest of all are the older pupils who came from the secondary school.  Theirs is the chance of a bright new future based on “A” level study.


Some of the former grammar students have reservations on the discipline issue………..Anne would like to have been a prefect………Barbara felt the corridor situation was a bit chaotic.


The sixth and seventh-formers seem a little confused……there’s really nothing at Ryhope School to feel revolutionary-minded about.  The pupil’s right to a perpetual moan is suddenly gone.


Now the seventh year has a common-room furnished from school council funds; a record-player blares and darts thud into a board.

photo: headmaster Richard Copland

who likes to let his pupils think for



photo:  A group of sixth

formers with darts

and dominoes



It seems that Graham Martin, eloquent 17-year-olds, stands alone in his desire for an even more radical set-up at Ryhope.  He tried to inspire a new branch of the School Action Union     they got as far as campaigning success, private study areas – with it seems, is the lack of such facilities in the building than the administration.


Graham is also anxious to see a body of students and parents, helping in the selection of teachers.  “We know what kind of people we want to teach us; we know the kind of people we can communicate with”.


Another idea of Graham’s involved the school council supporting Peter “Stop the 70 tour” campaign., a bit of vain hope.  He’s happy about the lack of discipline – though he admit s to a “reactionary” sorrow that general assembly is no more at Ryhope School  Morning group tutorials have replaced it.


“I think it gave the pupils a group identity, a sense of belonging”, he says.  He doesn’t go much for the idea of prayer, though, and fancies instead a dose of Dylan to start the day.


Of the school council, sixth-formers say:  “It’s purely advisory, it doesn’t have any final say”.  Mrs Paddy Murray, senior mistress in charge of council affairs, disagrees:  “They haven’t realised the full potential yet.  They might be quite surprised to find what power they do have.  At the moment they’re mostly concerned with matters of finance…. fund-raising, spending the money, organising dances”.




This pupil had moved to Ryhope School from a rather different kind of grammar school.  “At my old school, every single one of the teachers carried a strap and every single one of them used it in their lessons.  It ruined the student-teacher relationship.  In fact, there w=just wasn’t one”.


Punishment is another aspect of school life that Richard Copland has definite views upon: “Because our school has a family atmosphere – the principle is based upon everybody being really well known by their year-teacher – we consider punishment an individual matter, as a family might”, the head says.


Punishment usually involves a consultation between teacher and parent – where the offence is serious – and it is tailored to help the individual pupil.


But Mr Copland’s style of punishment is the sort to make Tom Brown’s masters turn in their graves.  It is liberal, like everything else at this school.


Liberal, too, are the headmaster’s views on pregnant school girls, giving rise, probably, to those old “crèche” rumours.  Sixth-form girls at Ryhope who find themselves pregnant are welcome to stay at school until the birth and return shortly afterwards.  Pregnant schoolgirls who marry can come to school sporting their wedding rings.


“And why not?” asks Mr Copland.


“These things happen.  As long as everyone admits the facts and doesn’t try to hush it all up, I see nothing wrong”.




Yes, it’s that kind of school; a place where pupils think for themselves, where they are responsible for their own futures.  It’s a place where a pupil’s mistake earns a helping hand to recovery – not to the school gates.


It’s the kind of atmosphere that prompts third-year pupils, unsupervised, to start their own magazine – complete with agony column.  They saw it through several copies as well.  It’s the sorth of atmosphere ripe to accept the head’s daily bulletin about school events – which includes a few funnies about members of staff.


It’s the kind of place that makes a second-former say: “I don’t think I want to go to university – I like it better here”.


It’s the kind of place where the headmaster’s modes comment about “a pleasant atmosphere between staff and pupils” seems like a bit of an under statement.


A sixth-form farewell….(hic)….party


Forty sixth-year pupils – girls and boys – were sent home after drinking alcohol at a party at Ryhope School, Sunderland, the headmaster, Mr Dick Copland, confirmed today.


It was a farewell party to pupils leaving in mid-term.  It was in full swing in the sixth-for common room when a teacher walked in from the dining room next door.  Mr Copland said there was no question of any suspensions.  The action taken in sending the pupils home was regarded as “necessary but sufficient”.


The pupils involved all celebrated their 17th birthday during this school year.  The school was closing for half-term holiday yesterday – and today the headmaster was at the school receiving the first apologies from those involved in the incident.


In a statement Mr Copland said “A number of sixth-year students were sent home yesterday afternoon with instructions to return with a written apology before the next school session.  Some alcoholic drink was brought into the sixth-form common room in connection with a farewell to four fellow students.


“This is, of course, not permitted and even though no-one had more than a small quantity of alcohol, all involved – about 40 – were sent home for the afternoon.  Sixth-year students are a normally responsible group and many have already returned their notes although today is a holiday”.


from Sunderland Echo July 1975


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