Ninestiles (Hartfield Crescent/Harrison Barrow) School
The first part of the school to open was the west wing, in February 1929, when 260 boys and girls ten years and over were admitted. The school was first known as Hartfield Crescent Council School. By the next year there was an Infants and Juniors section and the school had been reorganised for Senior Boys, Senior Girls, and Infants and Juniors. Female staff transferred to the east wing to serve the Senior Girls Department in 1930. During the war the school was hit twice by bombs. The children were evacuated to Loughborough. In 1945 the boys and girls schools became separate schools.
In 1946 the City failed to get permission to build a girls grammar school at Billesley, and by 1948 they were so concerned at the lack of grammar school places for girls that they decided to make the Boys School into a mixed Modern School, and the Girls School into Hartfield Crescent Girls Grammar School. In 1954 the girls school was renamed Harrison Barrow County Grammar School for Girls. According to Kath Barkley, the headmistress Mrs McNeill insisted that the school was known as Harrison Barrow Girls' Grammar School. It was enlarged twice in the 1950s.
After 1953 no new pupils were admitted to the Primary School on site, which closed by 1958, enabling the infant accommodation to be used by the girls grammar school and the junior accommodation to be used for the County Modern School. In 1960/1 a three-storey block was added to the Secondary Modern School, some temporary buildings were taken down and a large playground made. A Special Education Unit was opened in 1966. The grounds to the east of the school had been bought from Charles Lane in 1930, but in December 1962 a playing field south of the school belonging to the YMCA was finally bought after a year of negotiations. The school had already been using it for some time.
1968 brought controversy, as the decision was taken to phase out the girls grammar school. 400 parents accused the Education Department of breaking its promises. The city wanted to call the combined school a comprehensive, but in 1969 the Minister of State for Education did not permit this, as grammar school education was continuing, and two entry forms to the Comprehensive were being filled using 11+ results: i.e. selection was still taking place. No more were admitted to the Grammar School from September 1969, though, and that closed in 1971, with the remaining girls being transferred to the Comprehensive.
National Compass newspaper contained an article in September 1970 about the new school, describing the accommodation as of high quality, and assuring readers that the educational needs of individual children would be met. There would be Year Tutors and Form Tutors to watch over the children. The vision of Mr R. Gaskell, the Head, was set out thus:
He sees his main tasks in the immediate future as providing and maintaining high academic standards for the more able pupils and at the same time, and no less important, providing interesting and valuable courses for the less able. He is gathering at Hartfield a large and experienced staff of experts and one which is in sympathy with the Comprehensive ethos. Besides the usual curriculum subjects he lays great stress on the importance of extra-curricular societies and clubs and these are developing as the school develops. There are already drama, dance and gym clubs in operation, and these should increase as the size of the Sixth Form grows and the demand arises.
To fulfil the role it must play in the neighbourhood, Hartfield School will have a Community Centre closely connected with it - the former Greenwood Club. This will cater for all ages, from the very young to the very old. It is hoped that the centre will open in September, 1971, and will provide facilities for meetings, drama, music and any other activities required by the community at at large. The interior of the building is being redesigned to provide a Social Room, a large meeting room, 2 committee rooms, a project area and catering facilities. The P.E. facilities at a the school will be available for the more energetic for Keep Fit, badminton and so on. Some of the senior pupils will be on hand to give assistance to the old and the very young, so that the school can play its part in community service.
This second paragraph, of course, refers to Fox Hollies Forum. Malcolm Currie ran the Forum, and was on the staff of the school, with some teaching responsibilities. When he left, some five years later, a warden was appointed who did not teach, and had less direct involvement with the school. In 1982, the decision was taken to build "Birmingham's first all-in sports and leisure centre" on the site, with work due to start in 1983/4. Fox Hollies Leisure Centre was opened on 11th January 1986.
In 1984 Pitmaston School and Hartfield Crescent Schools were closed and merged on the Hartfield site as Ninestiles School. The sixth form closed. The name Ninestiles refers to a walk which ran alongside the school, from Hall Green to Shirley. In 1984 BT donated a satellite dish, to enable pupils to receive weather information, and by 1986 other companies like British Aerospace had given more equipment. However, by 1988 Hartfield School was in a crisis, with the second-worst exam results in Birmingham. As a comprehensive school, it should have had a good range of pupils across the spectrum of abilities, but the intake was skewed towards the less able, as parents were sending their children elsewhere.
The appointment of Dexter Hutt as Head in 1988 brought about a long renaissance. In February 1990 the school was relaunched as a 'community school', with the intention of bringing adults in to learn. To this end, fifteen computers were provided. In September of that year Hall Green College was brought in as a partner to enable A-Level teaching to take place in the school (pupils were registered by the college). However by December 1991 funding for the outreach worker associated with the work with adults came under threat because of problems with the City's education budget.
What happened in 1993 was a defining moment. 1990 had brought a new financial system to schools, with the introduction of Local Management of Schools. As a result the school had been able to take on more teachers to undertake remedial work with Year 7 pupils, to bring them up to the required standard. After a couple of years the extra money ran out, and the school was faced with the choice of sacking these teachers, or going Grant Maintained. The school began to campaign to get parents to support this move, but the City opposed it fiercely. The chair of Governors, Peter Bennett, was a high-ranking City employee, but supported the opt-out campaign in his private capacity as chair, and received a personalised attack for doing this, which reached the newspapers. Dexter Hutt refused to release 400 parents' names to the City on Data Protection grounds, although the City was supposed to be able to write to all parents to put its case. The Department of Education backed his action, but the City threatened High Court action, and a local councillor, Matt Redmond, called for Mr Hutt's resignation. The school gave in under threat of court action. However, the strong-arm tactics used by the City appear to have backfired, because the parents voted to go Grant Maintained at the end of February 1993: strangely, Ninestiles was not the first to do so, but the fifteenth.
The autumn of 1993 brought an arrangement with East Birmingham College to provide A-Level teaching on the site: the government had refused funding for a sixth form at Ninestiles. In 1994 Dexter Hutt introduced a Discipline for Learning scheme, adapted from U.S.A. models, with clearly understood sanctions. In May 1995 pupils from the school beat off all other opposition from the West Midlands, including King Edward Boys Edgbaston and Rugby school, to get into the national finals of an investment competition. Extra lessons were introduced for the 1986 GCSE exams, and the percentage of good results went up from 18% to 30%, resulting in more applications from parents to send their children to the school. In February 1997 Ninestiles was singled out by Ofsted nationally as an example of an outstanding school, and in July of that year the government finally approved the building of a sixth form building (Ninestiles had had an arrangement with South Birmingham College for two years by then). Among many other changes Mr Hutt had introduced was the appointment of a business manager, Tony Field, to promote the school, make links with business, and seek funding. He was extremely inventive and successful. (Thanks to Peter Bennett, MBE, for help with some of this information). The following article from the Sunday Mercury of 5th October 1997 shows how far the school had now come.
Ninestiles is today a Foundation school and a Technology College. The school now has an excellent reputation for computing, has thriving arts facilities, and is consistently improving its results, with more than ten times the number of pupils getting good GCSEs than in 1988. Dexter Hutt was knighted in 2004. His account of the journey to recovery can be found here.
I went into the infants at Hartfield Crescent at 5 years old, in 1935, then on into the juniors. At the time there were three big halls: infants and juniors, senior girls, and senior boys. There were separate boys and girls schools, and there were railings between the playgrounds. Boys from Acocks Green school came there for half-days, as their school was being used for something else. Hartfield Crescent had Vic's Astoria Band in the halls. I met my husband at the dances in the school halls. These dances were for grown-ups, and competitions were held there.
Andrea Applebe 1935-7
(The following is a few sentences from her chapter in Through the Classroom Window, by Pat Morton).
The long awaited day arrived in the summer term of 1935. I was just five years old...Soon Miss Uzzal, the reception teacher gathered us all up and took us into the classroom. [She said] "will you look after this little girl who is very upset?"...The little girl's name was Kathleen and she lived in the same road as I. We became constant companions and our friendship lasted until the war and evacuation separated us...The school day was from 9.00 a.m. to 12 noon in the morning, and from 2.00 p.m. in the afternoon. Very few children were taken to or collected from school...It was in Miss Dodsworth's class that I received my first smack. We had desks with tip up seats and we were all standing on them reciting a poem. I had a gob-stopper in my pocket and I took it out, I suppose to have a quick suck. unfortunately I dropped it and of course I got down to retrieve it. For this disobedience I had my legs smacked and what was worse, the gobstopper was confiscated...I made good progress and was soon moved up...into Miss Read's class...In her class I learned to write using pen and ink and literally blotted my copy book...Miss Read was extremely angry, smacking my legs for making a mess, and what was worse, tore the page out of my book in front of the whole class. I was hot with shame and embarrassment. I never forgave her...My last teacher at Hartfield was Miss Whittingham...She was much kinder...and restored my faith and confidence in school...
Jean Mercer, nee Caudren (1950 - 2003, writing in 2000)
In 1962 I began attending Hartfield Crescent Secondary modern School, while my brothers passed the 11 plus exam to attend Yardley Grammar School. Mr. Cook was the headmaster at Hartfield and he encouraged all of us to write to other children in different countries. Our form teacher, Miss Davies, had just spent a year in the U.S.A. teaching there and had brought the names and addresses of her pupils in Rhode Island back with her. To encourage us in our English lessons she made us all pick a name from out of a hat and write to the person. I ended up with a girl named Karen Larson from Warwick, Rhode Island and wrote my first letter to her in the classroom in October of 1962. I still write to her although we tend now to either phone each other or send e-mails rather than post letters to and from America. Karen has turned out to be a very good and durable friend throughout my life.