Barry Comprehensive School is a vibrant community school situated at the northern edge of Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan. We are a boys only school for ages 11-16 and have a co-educational sixth form for ages 16-18.
A brief history of Barry Comprehensive School
“Since the beginning, our school has been in the forefront
of successful progressive education in Wales…”
Teifion Phillips, history teacher at Barry from 1946, and headteacher 1971-1981, introduces the history of the school [obituary}
The story of secondary education in Barry goes back to 1886, when Glamorgan County Council was persuaded that the new Intermediate School in Penarth would not be sufficient to meet the needs of the young town. So, in October 1896 the Barry County School opened its doors to 110 boys and girls who had been granted scholarships on passing the eleven-plus examination.
The School stood at the top of the Buttrills, and is now the Cherry Orchard. In accordance with the progressive educational opinion of the day the School was co-educational.
Dr Edgar Jones
The first head was H.R. Norris. He left under a cloud two years later and in 1899 was succeeded by Dr Edgar Jones, who remained there until 1933. When he began his headship the School numbered 157 boys and girls; when he retired it had 514 boys. Under his leadership the School established its formidable reputation as a school of excellence; he has strong claims to the mantle of the “Dr Arnold of Wales.” He inspired the respect and affection of generations of students and his ex-students numbered amongst their ranks a Governor of Cyprus, a Vice Chancellor of Oxford, professors, a Liberal MP, the Head of the World Meteorological Office, a host of lawyers, doctors, industrialists and businessmen, two famous cartoonists, and a Secretary to Lloyd George.
Dr ET Griffiths
Edgar Jones was succeeded by Dr ET Griffiths, previously head of Porth County Grammar School, a distinguished French scholar (and also the translator of Pinocchio into Welsh). He was head from 1933 until 1948. During his tenure the School continued to produce a regular quota of able students who were destined to occupy important posts in the academic, political, industrial and commercial life of the country. Language teaching was extended to include Spanish and Italian.
In the Second World War, school life was inevitably disrupted, as it had been between 1914 and 1918. War took its toll of ex-students and six members of staff were called up.
I joined the staff in 1946, having just been demobilised from the Army. The pupils numbered 501; there were 26 full-time teaching staff. It was with considerable deference that I embarked on my teaching career, acutely conscious that I was entering an apostolic succession of gifted History teachers. My predecessor (a one-time Commonwealth Fellow with Alastair Cooke) had just been appointed to the History Department at Cardiff, and he had succeeded Professor David Williams, the doyen of Welsh history scholars. Other staff included one of Wales’ foremost novelists, an eminent author of English Literature text books, a prolific radio scriptwriter in Welsh, one of Wales’ finest athletes, and the first teacher of Economics and Commerce in Welsh secondary schools. Leslie Mathews ET retired in 1948 (leaving for Australia where he worked at Sydney University and continued to publish works of translation, as well as a Welsh novel). He was succeeded by Leslie Mathews, who began his headship in January 1949, bringing with him a formidable reputation as head of Maths and Deputy Head of Whitchurch Grammar School. He would be the last head of the Grammar School and first head of Barry Boys’ Comprehensive. During his years the school moved to its present site at Port Road. By 1958, when the migration north took place, the school had 750 pupils. The 1950s saw a great crop of successful pupils, including the President of an Oxford College, university lecturers and professors, chief executives of county councils, professionals in law, medicine, industry and commerce, a West End actor and playwright, one of the world’s finest tenors, and the designer of today’s paper currency.
In 1949 new secondary schools were opened in Barry, following the Butler Education Act of 1944. The ideals of the Act, that there should be Grammar, Technical and Modern schools, with selection by differentiation (rather than elimination by eleven-plus) were never realised. With the school-leaving age raised to fifteen Barry now had three girls’ and three boys’ secondary modern schools. They could never, despite the efforts of their staffs, achieve the parity of esteem that the 1944 act envisaged; from the outset they and their pupils bore the stigma of eleven-plus failures; they were poorly resourced and housed in vacated junior school buildings. No one really knew what they were for. By 1964, the time was ripe for the materialisation of comprehensive education. This was when Barry Boys’ Comprehensive School began, and a new era opened in the history of secondary schooling in Barry.
The beginnings of comprehensive education in Barry were largely unnoticed by the media. In the Barry and District News for 5 August 1966, however, officials of the Barry and District Football Association were said to be apprehensive about “what is going to happen to soccer when the comprehensive system of education begins in September.” But Head and staff, despite months of preparation, were apprehensive. Grammar School staff were leaving a tried and tested system which happily combined opportunity and privilege; secondary modern teachers were abandoning schools which had yet to reach puberty. Opinion about comprehensive schools was very much in the making, not made. Most radical opinion tended to think about comprehensives as meaning the extension of grammar schooling to all.
The new school combined the buildings of Romilly Secondary Modern, the Grammar School, and the recently completed Middle School (which had been planned as a secondary modern). Although comprehensive education for girls would be delayed for lack of buildings until 1971, the eleven-plus was abolished for all children in the town, and the intake to the Girls’ Grammar increased by 60 pupils.
The split sites made the new system all the more difficult to introduce, although it did break down the massive 1500 pupils school into manageable units. But making “unitarians” out of “trinitarians” proved a formidable job and there remained a constant conflict between pastoral and teaching demands. Equally important were the decisions over what was to be taught. Fortuitously the introduction of CSE in 1965 meant that something could be offered to the 20 percent of the ability range below the top 20 percent for which O level was thought to be suited. This still meant a problem in catering the majority! The first five years were a period of consolidation and continuous adaptation, but exam results showed that no one had lost out and a good many had gained from the new regime.
When Leslie Mathews retired in 1971 he could look back on a job well done. He had always maintained that learning could only be carried out in a well-ordered community and that his main duty as head was to ensure the creation and maintenance of conditions that made good teaching possible.
The agonies and the ecstasies of headmastering began for me in September 1971. The first major challenge came in 1972-3 when the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16. This meant an increase in numbers and soon there were over 1800 pupils in the school. Fortunately we were given adequate accommodation and an imaginative LEA even allowed us to undertake our own alterations and extensions to a workshop! Teaching staff eventually numbered 105. Then in 1974 came the ending of our “onlie begetter”, Glamorgan County Council, and the advent of the newly created South Glamorgan (1974-1996). Fears that we might become a cockle boat attached to Cardiff’s galleon proved groundless.
Leslie Mathews had begun mixed ability teaching in Form One. The experiment was extended to Middle School, but in Forms Four and Five subject choice and the demands of O levels and CSEs were the decisive factors in the setting up of teaching groups. The ending of streaming nonetheless meant profound changes in teaching techniques.
Regrettably I presided over the disappearance of Classics; but I also oversaw the introduction of Environmental Studies and Automobile Mechanics, and the transformation of Crafts subjects into the trinity of “Design, Craft and Technology”. Another major problem was the emergence of the “Open Sixth Form”. Unfortunately all attempts to reform the A level system proved abortive. Meanwhile high academic standards were maintained for the many. When it came time for me to retire in July 1981 I was conscious that I had left undone a great deal that I ought to have done and that my modest achievements were inadequate. I comforted myself with the thought that a school, like a garden, is never without some need of attention, and that the years had brought successes as well as disappointments.
Courtney Rice picks up the story… In 1981 one dusty computer lay unused in a remote room, and there was not one video recorder in the whole school. By 1991 all the buildings had fully equipped computer teaching rooms, and every subject area its own specialist computer equipment. Not only was the VCR ubiquitous but the school was making professional films in its purpose built media studies studio, not just as part of the curriculum, but on a commercial basis for the police and other agencies. The rapid application of technology was made possible by the injection of TVEI funding, as were developments in the curriculum and timetable planning. GCSE replaced O level and CSE. TVEI encourage a vocational bias in curriculum provision. New subjects appeared such as Catering, Computer Studies, Media Studies, and Business Studies. The National Curriculum was imposed by the government, CPVE was introduced, and only A level remained of the old system. Sixth Form teaching had to adjust to the revolution which had taken place in the 11-16 curriculum.
Alongside the National Curriculum, the new Education acts changed the administration and control of schools dramatically, with a new governing body coming into being in 1988. It quickly became informed, supportive and helpful, capable of taking hard decisions, but soon absorbed into the general life of the school.
Throughout this period the school’s pupils continued to display academic, musical and sporting prowess. We won competitions both traditional, such as public speaking, and innovative — new competitions for technology and business enterprise. Consistent with the unity and firm purpose which has always marked its teachers, staff turnover was low, and always ahead of its time, a firm preparation was made for new beasts such as SATs and performance indicators.
Mike Griffiths had joined the school as a deputy head in 1986, having previously taught at St Teilo’s in Cardiff. He became head of Barry Boys’ in September 1991. He has recently retired as headteacher of Cardiff High School and received the OBE for Services to Education.
Mike Griffith’s tenure as head made a firm mark on the school as it sailed the choppy waters of the 1990s. The advent of parental “choice”, the growth in Welsh medium education, league tables, all signified that schools were now supposed to be competing in a market. Governments demeaned teaching as a profession. Local management gave governing bodies significant control over school spending, but introduced unnecessary stress into relationships between schools and cash-starved councils. Local government reorganisation meant that by 1996 we were now part of the Vale of Glamorgan. Meanwhile changes in society, widespread unemployment, and the widening gap between rich and poor in the school’s traditional catchment focused attention on the role played by schools and teachers in the personal and social development of young people.
Mike placed shared values at the heart of his ethos for Barry Comprehensive, values shared by pupils, parents, staff and governors. He was determined that the school should be conscious of itself within a wider society, and ensured its development in partnership with parents and the community as a whole. Community experience was set alongside work experience; strong emphasis was placed on business links and theri reciprocal benefits, and “promoting the positive” became the watchword, underpinning teaching and pastoral support, and the presentation of the school to its community.
The changing social balance of the school’s intake meant that new emphasis was placed on the basic skills of literacy and numeracy. New methods of teaching and discipline were introduced to ensure that every pupil was given the chance to do his best. This attention paid off in national examination results, with dramatic improvements between 1991 and 1997.
Mike was also able to address the problems with deteriorating buildings that had accelerated in the 1980s. Upper School acquired a new wing housing state of the art science and language facilities and a Learning Resources Centre equipped both with books and a computer suite. Romilly School was vacated. Our national success in technology attracted rhe resources for a new Technology Block. Specialist facilities were created for art and photography. Middle School, however, continued to leak, despite years of patch repair.
Perhaps the most important innovation was the creation of a Sixth Form partnership with Bryn Hafren School. With the inception of the Barry Sixth Form in 1993 — a mere 97 years after a co-educational secondary school had opened its doors — Barry’s young men and women could once again be taught together. The BSF has proved its worth, as staying on rates have improved, new subjects have been introduced to widen educational choice, vocational learning has expanded, and results have improved year on year.
David Swallow took up his headship at Barry Comprehensive in January 1998, having previously been head of Wellacre School in Trafford, Manchester. He has already made his mark. The school has dropped “Boys” from its title — in deference to the co-educational sixth form. A new uniform — reinstating the traditional green — has been introduced in year seven, and will spread throughout the school. We have a new badge and motto — “opportunity to succeed”. The past year has seen massive repair work to Lower School, creating a much better working environment. Electronic registration has been introduced; new programmes provided for less motivated older pupils; attendance has dramatically improved.
Schools can never stand still. David is working with staff and parents to take Barry Comprehensive forward in his own style; at the same time we face new challenges — school and LEA targets, curriculum reform, “fair” funding, new relationships between schools and colleges of further education. We may shortly have an opportunity to move at last on to a single site, and, if this comes about, we will gain new buildings and facilities for all our students. Staff (old and new), governors, parents and pupils, can look forward to exciting times ahead. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice! MG