An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 16 (of 92 parts) - From Robins Lane to Sutton Academy Part 3 (1980-89)

An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 16 (of 92) - Sutton High School Part 1
A 5-part history of Robins Lane Schools & Sutton High
An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
Sutton High Part 1
A 5-part history of Robins Lane Schools and Sutton High
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVII
Stuart Henderson on parade at the Robins Lane infants school, St.Helens with Matthew Butler and Scott Slater
Scots Guard Stuart Henderson on parade
with Matthew Butler and Scott Slater
In November 1980 five pupils from Sutton High were selected for the Lancashire Under 14 hockey team to play Cheshire. These were Paul Smith, Colin Pemberton, David Burrows, John Boland and Karl Burns. Paul, David and Karl were also chosen to represent the Lancashire Under 15 team, which the school believed was the first time that three players from a single school had represented both age groups.

The Royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 excited many St.Helens folk. Robins Lane Infants School took part in the celebrations with their own version of the wedding, with special guest Stuart Henderson of the Scots Guards. The Junior Lance Sergeant received special permission to wear his red uniform and many of the pupils wore colourful uniforms of their own, made by their parents and staff.

Both Stuart and his older brother Andrew Henderson were former pupils at Robins Lane. Andrew was also in the Scots Guards and the 19-years-old Lance Corporal was amongst the military trumpeters who sounded a fanfare for the Royal couple at the real wedding in St.Paul’s Cathedral in London.

In January 1982 David Drysdale from Kent Road became the first Sutton High pupil to be accepted at Oxford University and later in the year Chris Simpson and Paul Marsh won places at Imperial College London. The school was especially pleased with their achievements, as it had only begun catering for A-levels two years earlier. During February thieves used crowbars to break into the school's store room, making off with equipment worth £3000. Their loot included a cassette copier and a tape deck used by the Sutton Sentinel production team. The two items had a combined value of £1300 and deputy head Harry Carr made a public appeal for their return. Amazingly there had been five previous unsuccessful attempts at breaking into the store room.

Left: Karen Rimmer interviews Leslie Ince for the Sentinel in 1981; Right: The Buffalos visit in January 1984

Left: Karen Rimmer interviews Leslie Ince for the Sutton Sentinel in 1981;
Right: Royal & Ancient Order of Buffalos visit the school in January 1984

Left: Karen Rimmer interviews Leslie Ince for the Sentinel in 1981; Right: The Buffalos visit in January 1984

In April 1983 Mrs. J. Dawes and Miss P. Beaumont marked 25 years of teaching at the school. Mrs. Dawes said that "The same blood which flows in Robins Lane and Sutton High is in our veins". Also in April Sutton High was featured in the St.Helens Reporter for having a 'comparatively large amount of computer hardware' that was 'bettered by few schools in the North West'. The total number of PCs was eight, a miserable number by today's standards but quite impressive thirty years ago. In January 1984 the Royal & Ancient Order of Buffalos visited Sutton Sentinel and presented the team with a cheque for £200. Their coffers had also been recently boosted by £3000 from the Queen's Silver Jubilee Fund (1980); £410 from the Boys Brigade (Jan. 1981); £600 from Granada TV's 'This is Your Right' (Dec. 1982) and £1500 from the Trustee Savings Bank (June 1983).

Pupils present a cheque to Dr. Celia Cramp of St.Helens Hospital to buy a blood pressure monitor

Pupils present a cheque to Dr. Celia Cramp of St.Helens Hospital

Sutton High pupils present a cheque to Dr. Celia Cramp of St.Helens Hospital to buy a blood pressure monitor

In July 1984, most of the heads of department at Sutton High passed a vote of no confidence in their headmaster Russell Long. This was through concerns over his management style and it led to a lengthy period of uncertainty at the school. Also in July, a cheque for £1981 was presented to Dr. Celia Cramp of St.Helens Hospital to buy a blood pressure monitor for their paediatric Hazel ward. Sutton High pupils had raised the cash through sponsored events, including a bike ride to Southport and a sponsored spell.

A new Social and Environment outdoor studies course was pioneered in September 1984. Sutton High were the first school in Merseyside to timetable such a course, which involved pupils studying their environment from a practical point of view. A major project would be the studying of Operation Groundwork and its impact on places such as Sutton Mill Dam. This new 'alternative curriculum' was in many ways an extension of a social studies course that had previously been run at the school.

An advertisement for teachers placed in the Guardian newspaper in October 1984 stated that Sutton High now had 1549 students on role, with 78 in the sixth form. That same month some senior school staff announced that they were withdrawing their 'goodwill'. This meant that their out of hours work, such as marking and sporting activities, would be suspended. Concerns over a delay in issuing a report into the claims made against headmaster Russell Long, had prompted this decision to 'work to rule'. The long-running dispute was finally ended in January 1985 when Mr. Long decided to retire. His position as headmaster was temporarily filled by
David Atkin, a deputy head at Rivington Road School.

Cllr. Dave Watts (who became MP for St.Helens North) with Sutton High pupils outside St.Helens Town Hall in March 1985

Cllr. Dave Watts with Sutton High pupils outside the Town Hall in 1985

Cllr. Dave Watts with Sutton High pupils outside St.Helens Town Hall in 1985

This protracted internal dispute had also coincided with a lengthy national dispute over the pay and conditions of teachers. On March 7th 1985 an extraordinary event took place at Century House in St.Helens. Over 150 Sutton High schoolchildren refused to go into school and instead marched to the town centre to talk to Dave Watts, chairman of the St.Helens Education Committee. Two boys (Garry Watkinson & Stewart Roberts) and two girls (Jacqueline Bleasdale & Allison Hatchard) were nominated to represent the group and told Mr. Watts how industrial action by their teachers at Sutton High was affecting their studies. The pupils were then taken to the Town Hall where Dave Watts addressed the whole group. He explained that the council did not have the funds to meet their teachers' 12 per cent pay demand. Some students were reported to have break-danced while the council boss was talking! After a brief discussion, the pupils elected not to go back to Sutton High. Instead they marched off to other schools to try and drum up support for a town-wide protest.

Sutton High headmaster William Rosser
Headmaster William (Bill) Rosser (1985 - 1992)
William E. Rosser was then appointed as headmaster and had the task of regaining trust and respect between the staff and senior management as well as pupils and their teachers. Bill had previously been a chemistry teacher and Head of Science at Cowley School and for 7 years had been Head of Rivington High School.

During December 1985 the school played a prominent role in the town's Christmas celebrations. Pupils performed nativity plays in the Hardshaw Centre and the Sutton High School Brass Band entertained the shoppers. In May 1986 teacher
Martin Landells raised £922 for school funds through running the London marathon. This was through a combination of sponsorship and a novel competition to guess the time he'd take to complete the course. Mrs. Beryl Fairclough came closest in guessing Martin’s time of 3 hours, 17 minutes and 44 seconds and was awarded the prize of £50.

In October 1986 the school’s 'alternative curriculum' received national approval when representatives were invited to the Royal Society of the Arts in London. Sutton High’s Social and Environment Studies course was one of eight national projects honoured at an Education for Capability Recognition Day and one of only three presented to the invited guests. These included the Labour party leader
Neil Kinnock. It was explained how links had been formed with four junior schools, the Fire Brigade, police, the visually impaired and Operation Groundwork, along with local businesses.

In March 1986, Sutton High School Brass Band won the schools section of the Wigan Music Festival. Two months later on May 13th,
David Bellamy opened an aromatic garden in grounds near to the Rennie eye ward of St.Helens Hospital. This had been built by the children of Sutton High with a strong emphasis on the scent of the plants and flowers, as opposed to their visual appearance. Pupils were already actively involved in the production of the Sutton Sentinel talking newspaper for the blind. So this had been a natural extension in the students' concern for the interests of the visually impaired.

During December the Sutton High Brass Band was back in the Hardshaw Centre on several dates entertaining shoppers.
Philip Ashcroft had revived the band a few years earlier and in March 1987 his colleagues were shocked to learn that his wife Glenys had been murdered. Matters got worse as the biology teacher and ex-Sutton High pupil Angela Page from New Street were both charged with Glenys's killing. On January 20th 1988 at Liverpool Crown Court, the pair were found guilty of the crime. Ashcroft had pleaded guilty to 'provoked manslaughter' and was given a life sentence for what the judge described as a "callous and premeditated" murder.

Safety concerns for pupils walking to school were back on the agenda in May 1987. A pelican crossing had been installed nine years earlier which allowed students to safely cross Marshalls Cross Road. However for the 70 pupils walking to Sutton High from the opposite direction, there was still danger. The children could safely walk along Elton Head Road to the 'Score' entrance to Sherdley Park. However the footpath then petered out, forcing the pupils to cross the busy road to a narrow strip of tarmac on the opposite side. The school’s PTA also raised their concerns for children walking along the road to the sports centre. The council promised to look into it but there was much delay. Then in September 1988 brother and sister
Barry and Dawn Brownbill were involved in a collision with a car in Elton Head Road while walking to school. The siblings were taken to hospital for treatment, although the pair were soon back home. The incident precipitated a furious reaction from the PTA, however seemingly by coincidence, St.Helens Council members had just approved a £35,000 footpath. This would lead directly from the Score to the school some 400 yards away and considerably improve pupil safety.

Under 15 winners of the 'Get in Shape, Girl! National Championships for Schools Rhythmic Gymnastics' competition

The under 15 winners of the 'Get in Shape, Girl! National Championships for Schools Rhythmic Gymnastics' competition in June 1987

U15 winners of the Get in Shape, Girl! National Championships for Schools Rhythmic Gymnastics competition

In June 1987 a team from Sutton High won the Under 15 section of the curiously-named 'Get in Shape, Girl! National Championships for Schools Rhythmic Gymnastics' competition. After winning their North West regional final, the quartet came first in the grand final at Crystal Palace in London. Also that year a school nature reserve was created on a triangular section of land adjacent to the Sutton High Sports Centre and the running track. A number of grants, including one of £1930 from the Countryside Commission, financed the project that covered 2000 square metres and cost over £5000.

Left: The entrance to the Sutton High school nature reserve; Right: Pupils working on the reserve in April 1988

The Sutton High school nature reserve pictured in April 1988

Sutton High school nature reserve

Environment Studies students became heavily involved in the project, which had a pond as the nature reserve's centrepiece. Water plants were obtained from Sherdley Park, including Flag Iris and Reed Mace, which successfully flowered in their new location. As well as frogs and fish, snails bred successfully and ladybirds, dragonflies, damselflies, pondskaters, waterboatmen, magpies, mallards and kestrels were quickly identified within the new reserve.

Pauline Birch (left) receives a cheque from Shell's Eileen Fennell on the pond at the Sutton High nature reserve

Pauline Birch (left) receives a cheque from Shell's Eileen Fennell

Pauline Birch (left) receives a cheque from Shell at the nature reserve

Soon awards for the reserve were coming in thick and fast. Shell awarded Sutton High their Area Achievement Award. This was part of the energy company’s 'Better Britain Campaign'. Pictured above are Pauline Birch receiving a cheque for £450 from Shell's Eileen Fennell, watched by (kneeling) Diane Rigby, Joanne Lanchin and Phil Briscoe. Standing (L-R) are Albert Greenall (team leader), Alan Niblock (campaign officer), Mary Farrell (Groundwork Trust Community Link Officer) and headmaster Bill Rosser. During November 1987 the nature reserve was 'Highly Commended' in the Kodak Conservation Awards. Then in February 1988, the project won a British Gas 'Make Britain Beautiful' conservation competition and students were invited to London to attend a special concert at Westminster Abbey. The reserve was created with assistance from the Groundwork Trust of St.Helens and it was a long-term project that many 4th and 5th year students worked on.

The editorial team behind Sutton High's newspaper 'Junction Express', which was first published in April 1988

The editorial team behind Sutton High's newspaper 'Junction Express'

The team behind Junction Express

During the academic year 1987-8, Sutton High had 1405 students on its roll, including 110 in its sixth form. A number of them were involved in producing a newspaper called 'Junction Express'. The first edition was published in April 1988 and it was distributed to all homes in the district. The paper featured a number of interviews, entertainment articles for children, histories on parts of Sutton and information on local services. The pupils paid a visit to a newspaper in Chester to gain practical experience of newspaper publishing.

Staff and students who performed the Gilbert and Sullivan opera HMS Pinafore over three nights in April 1988

Staff and students who performed HMS Pinafore over 3 nights in April 1988

The cast of HMS Pinafore in April 1988

Also in April 1988 over three evenings, Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore was performed by pupils, staff and the school brass band. In May sixteen sixth formers won the Young Enterprise Scheme Award. The students had run their own company called Zig Zag, with 17-years-old Mark Blackmore as their managing director. With help from the school's design company, Zig Zag made and sold colourful, perspex clocks. The inaugural Sutton High School Golf Championship took place during the summer, with twenty pupils and eight members of staff participating. The event on the Sherdley Park golf course was won by Lee Leatherbarrow.

The Education Committee's Dave Watts back in the firing line as reported by the St.Helens Leader on October 20th 1988

Dave Watts back in the firing line as reported by the St.Helens Leader in 1988

Dave Watts back in the firing line!

Princess Anne presents Michelle Price of Sutton High School with a Crime Concern award
Princess Anne presents Michelle Price of Sutton
High School with a Crime Concern award
The cat was truly put amongst the pigeons in June when the Community Education Committee of St.Helens Council released proposals for a major shake-up of the town’s secondary schools. Sutton High and its Parent Teacher Association, led by Suzan Hitchmough, were horrified to read that the plans included the axing of the school's sixth form. The two-year review argued for a rationalisation of sixth form provision in St.Helens due to surplus places at some schools. A dedicated sixth form college was seen as the answer and a massive public consultation exercise began.

The PTA formed an action committee and a petition was signed by almost 2000 Sutton residents and presented to St.Helens Council. After months of uncertainty while responses to the proposals were being considered, the Education Committee issued their judgements in March 1989. The good news was that Sutton High's sixth form was not only going to be saved, but the Elton Head Road campus was in line for a big extension.

Concern over vandalism at the school led to the creation in November 1988 of the Sutton High Junior Crime Prevention Panel. The group, which mainly comprised first year pupils, wrote and produced a play and devised questionnaires and a noticeboard. The panellists also made a video called 'Vandalism in Sutton High School & Sutton' which took second prize in a national competition.

In August 1989 members of the Junior Crime Prevention Panel were given Royal approval for their efforts at reducing vandalism in St.Helens. The Princess Royal presented 12-year-olds Michelle Price, Philip Shields, Andrew Butterworth, Adrian Crow, Christopher Wright, Ian Brick, Stephen Green and Kristian Ellison with a Crime Concern award. Also in 1989 the school's tradition of involvement with the local community was recognised when the Education Authority permitted another change of name to Sutton Community High School. There would, however, be two more name changes to come!

Left: Jean Keating presents a cheque to the PTA, proceeds of the 2nd walk; Right: students recover from a walk

Left: Jean Keating presents a cheque to the school PTA, the proceeds of the second walk; Right: students recover from a fundraising walk

Left: Jean Keating presents a cheque to the PTA, proceeds of the 2nd walk; Right: students recover from a walk

In October 1989 over 100 sixth-formers and 20 staff undertook the school’s third annual sponsored walk. The 22-mile hike raised more than £1000 to help with communal activities, such as the annual pensioners' Christmas party. The above photograph (right) staged for the local newspapers, shows sixth form head Phil Hart cooling down the walkers.

The 1990s would bring to the school a new arts centre, a terrible fire and closure and demolition of the Robins Lane secondary school site. Plus great academic success, along with an extension of the school’s charity and community work.
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
This website is written and researched by Stephen R. Wainwright ©MMXVII  Contact Me
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