The History of Wyedean School – 1973 to the present
The BACKGROUND and HISTORY of WYEDEAN SCHOOL: Wyedean School is the product of the Labour Government’s initiative in the 1960s to replace selective secondary education with comprehensive schools which welcome students of all abilities. Secondary education in the south-west corner of Gloucestershire was focused in Lydney where there was a mixed grammar school for girls and boys who passed the 11+ examination and single-sex secondary modern schools for those who did not. Faced with the need to transform this provision into comprehensive schooling, the Gloucestershire Local Education Authority decided to incorporate in its planning a solution to the disquiet that had been growing for some years over students living close to the Welsh border having to travel to Lydney.
In the new arrangements two comprehensive schools were projected, the larger Whitecross School inheriting the site of Lydney Grammar School and catering for pupils living in the Lydney area, while an entirely new school, which became Wyedean, was to be built in Sedbury. In order to stagger disruption while this happened, Whitecross would become a fully-fledged comprehensive school for the full range of students aged 11-18, initially catering for all students from year 9 upwards. Meanwhile Wyedean would occupy the buildings of the former Lydney Girls School, now Severnbanks primary school, and start only with students from Years 7 and 8. The schools opened in September 1973, and Wyedean’s new site became available for the 1976-7 school year, then with students from years 7 to 11.
Wyedean benefited enormously from this measured growth into an 11-18 school. The first headteacher was appointed well over a year before Wyedean opened, and made full use of that wonderful opportunity to mould the school’s ethos and systems in the exciting new comprehensive era. By and large the principles laid down then became so embedded in Wyedean’s DNA that they continue to be the bedrock of the committed and highly successful school Wyedean continues to be.
Excellence in academic and pastoral provision has consistently been the driving force in Wyedean’s identity. A keynote of the school’s success has been the determination to ensure that pupils of all abilities strive to achieve the very best they can. It has always been important to encourage students to achieve the strongest examination results possible, and at the top end of the academic scale Wyedean has consistently proved able to achieve outstanding examination results and to gain for its students access to the best universities including Oxford and Cambridge.
A great deal of thought was given to the creation of a pastoral system that would provide the most caring environment and support the needs of individual students best. The system of four vertically-structured houses which emerged meant that Heads of House were senior and very important members of staff. Houses became ingrained into the fabric of daily life at Wyedean and survived till the end of the century. Only as year groups became much larger was it decided with a heavy heart to abandon houses in favour of a year system led by Year Heads.
The move to Sedbury gave a massive impetus to the school’s development, not only because of the exciting new buildings, but because at last it was based in the heart of its own community. This was a time of great rejoicing and celebration for the local people who had campaigned for their own neighbourhood school. This community pride in the school and the beautiful scenery of the area between the Rivers Wye and Severn led directly to Wyedean’s name and to the brown and yellow of the original uniform (which, it has to be said, was not to all pupils’ taste). The Forest of Dean District Council was as supportive as Gloucestershire County Council had been in the concept and planning of the school, and facilities were greatly enhanced from the beginning by the building of a sports and leisure centre which was jointly managed by the district council and the school. From very early days this was accompanied by a programme of adult education courses which were strongly revived when specialist school status was achieved in 2003 and continue to offer the school’s resources to the local community.
The character and identity of Wyedean have been significantly shaped by the presence of a sixth form and all that contributes to the aspirations of students both academically and socially. For many years this had to be fought for, by those who originally planned the new school and most notably in the late 1980s when the numbers of post-16 students drifting to the area FE college made the continuation of a sixth form in Lydney unviable, so that Wyedean’s was the only sixth form in this part of Gloucestershire. There was tremendous pressure from the LEA on economic and efficiency grounds to end all post-16 provision in schools.
The matter was only resolved in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the recognition that the school needed to expand significantly the number of pupils entering at age 11, who would eventually feed through to the sixth form. This meant attracting even more parents from outside the catchment area, for whom Wyedean was already a popular alternative, to send their children here. Traditionally students had come from further afield in Gloucestershire, but now they came from Wales too, initially especially from the villages of Undy and Magor, and then increasingly from Chepstow itself.
Soon the school was accepting 180, rather than 120, students in each year group below the sixth form, though a decision was taken not to request further expansion beyond this number in order that growth of the main school should not get out of hand. The combination of sixth form student numbers increasing year by year and a series of superb examination results led to students from other local schools choosing to transfer to Wyedean after GCSEs. The perceived importance of the sixth form to the school and the area was clearly demonstrated by the addition of “and Sixth Form Centre” to the school’s name. The continuing size and success of Wyedean’s sixth form is a major feature of both its vision and achievements.
As numbers at Wyedean grew from just under 600 including a sixth form of around 80 students which prevailed in its first 20 years of existence, so the accommodation dramatically increased in size and in the quality of its specialty provision. Student numbers doubled to around 1200 in the decade to 2005 with the size of the sixth form almost quadrupling. A memorable day in the school’s history was in September 2000 when Diana Organ MP officially opened the new Performing Arts Centre following a building programme over the previous three years which included the Science Block extension, additional Art and Music facilities and a purpose-built Modern Languages Suite. This was also an opportunity to honour one of the founder governors, Walter Manson, who had been a driving force behind the original project to build a new school in Sedbury.
The next few years saw a relentless building programme to complete the superb accommodation Wyedean staff and students now enjoy. The state-of-the-art Technology Centre, The Sixth Form Centre and the magnificent Joanne Rowling Library all followed in quick succession, and Maths & Computing Specialist School status brought a re-thinking of provision in those areas with substantial additional space. School morale was further raised by interior designer Dave Burgess’s spectacular concept of an Art Deco –style restaurant to replace the old dining areas and, in 2006, large-scale expansion of the Sixth Form Centre adding a Common Room, more teaching rooms and Enhanced IT provision. Finally came the extension at the front of the school which added yet more sixth form facilities and a major refurbishment of the main entrance.
While Wyedean had strong and profitable links with Gloucestershire LEA, it was always open to opportunities for more independence, especially if that increased the financial resources available to the school. Wyedean worked with the LEA to help pioneer some aspects of the Local Management of Schools project in the late 1980s which gave more freedom to schools to use their funding in the way they wished. In 1993 the school became the first in the Forest of Dean area to gain Grant Maintained status which brought far more of the school’s funding directly to the school from central government. Although the new Labour government in 1997 ended GMS, Wyedean accepted Foundation School status which brought similar financial benefits. In 2003, as part of the government’s Specialist School initiatives, Wyedean was part of the first tranche of schools to become Specialist Mathematics and Computing colleges with a successful first-time application. This brought considerable prestige, another building programme and wonderful computing resources. For the chief IT technician every day was Christmas day as more and more deliveries arrived. When the new Coalition government of 2010 opened the Academisation programme to all schools, Wyedean was quick to see, and to be awarded, the resource benefits of this new independent status, without having the constraints of being part of an Academy chain of schools.
Headteachers have stayed for an average of over ten years through Wyedean’s history, so there has been a strong thread of continuity which has enabled the maintenance of core principles. Though the number of students, and the development of the resources and school site have increased beyond recognition, if the first head, Ken Smith, were to walk through the front door tomorrow he would recognise the friendly, caring and purposeful atmosphere of the school he left behind. Ken brought with him priceless experience of the transition to comprehensive education through his time at Woodway Park School in Coventry. He was an English specialist who cared a great deal about the precise use of the English language, and he also taught French.
Alan Bartlett, a scientist and chemistry specialist, came from deputy headship at Ivybridge College in Devon, well known for its progressive comprehensive school ethos and systems. He successfully took charge of Local Management of Schools at Wyedean, and led a very forceful parental campaign to save the sixth form when its future was under serious threat. Alan has gone on to have a long career in the educational advisory service.
John Claydon had been deputy head at Wood Green School in Witney, and came from a background of running two large sixth forms and central involvement in the pioneering Internship scheme for student teachers at Oxford University. These interests continued strongly at Wyedean through his vision of the large sixth form this part of Gloucestershire deserves and a significant commitment to fostering teacher training through close links with Bristol University’s Education Dept. During John’s watch Wyedean roughly doubled in size, in terms of both students and accommodation, and Specialist School status was achieved. There was a democratic vote finally to change the school uniform, with the students choosing maroon t-shirts and sweatshirts, with black skirts and trousers, and retaining the original badge. A history graduate from Oxford University, John taught history and politics and was passionate about extending the breadth of sixth form students’ knowledge and understanding through an effective General Studies programme.
National recognition came through: a top-20 position in The Observer’s first extensive survey of “value-added” achievement; 30th place in the Independent’s “Top 50 Comprehensive Schools” for A level results in 2001; a National Achievement Award from the Dept for Educ & Skills in 2003; 16th place that summer in The Guardian’s “Top Schools and Colleges” list for A level results, and an invitation to the Specialist Schools National Awards Ceremony for achieving a 70% of students C grade or higher pass rate at GCSE level in 2004. During this period, too, there were multiple Welsh national boys’ hockey titles under the coaching of Senior Teacher, Shaun Mooney; we were able to compete because of the school’s Welsh postcode.
Clive Pemberton brought experience as a deputy head at Bournside School in Cheltenham and short stints working in Worcestershire for the LEA and as a headteacher. He is an English graduate of Cambridge University. He completed the series of major building works at Wyedean with the extension at the front of the school which greatly enhanced sixth form accommodation and remodelled the administration area and main entrance. Under his leadership, Wyedean achieved academy status in 2011. Examination results have continued to improve over time with record GCSE results in 2014 and record A level results with 62% of students gaining A*, A and B grades in 2015.
Wyedean has been fortunate too in the high quality of its deputy headteachers, four of whom went on to be headteachers, and several of whom led the school for short periods as acting heads: Terry Williams, Peter Goodliffe, Helen Guttery, Dennis Arthurs, Alison Miller, Mark Eager, Karyn Taylor, Steve Moir and currently Rob Wagland. These too have contributed significantly to continuity, with their average length of stay even longer than that of the heads.
For its comparatively short history, Wyedean has already acquired quite a long list of well known former students, headed by megastar, Harry Potter author Joanne Rowling, and including England World Cup rugby union player Georgia Stevens, BBC political reporter Ross Hawkins, and film and TV actor Owain Yeoman.
The current Principal, Rob Ford, was appointed in September 2015 having been a Deputy Headteacher at Crickhowell High School, Powys and before that at Royal Wootton Bassett Academy. Rob is a History and Politics graduate from York University and began his career in the independent sector. Rob has a very strong background in international education and the International Baccalaureate and is a consultant and ambassador for the British Council. Rob set up and chaired the IB South West region of schools and has worked in a number of countries over the years with schools in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Russia, India, South Africa, Europe, Canada and the USA. Rob’s Headship has coincided with a fluctuating educational picture and significant fall in national school funding. With many schools rushing into joining Multi Academy Trusts over the last couple of years Wyedean School was invited in the autumn of 2015 to join a small select group of South West schools in the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter’s “Race to Outstanding”. The school in 2016 also joined Challenge Partners, the old London Challenge group, with a focus on outstanding and high performing school improvement in a large proven network in England without losing school governance. Rob’s vision for Wyedean is to look outwards and to build on the successful work and best traditions of his predecessors focussing this community school on World Class 21st Century learning.