Our School History
Elm Grove School Centenary 1893-1993
Elm Grove Infants School first opened its doors in June 1893, when over 30 children were transferred from the old infant school in Bentham Road. By the end of the summer of 1893 there were 438 on the Infants roll, almost 800 children, Boys, Girls and Infants, were registered at the new institution. "I have never seen a school better adapted for its purpose than this," stated Hove resident George Kekewich, the eminent National Secretary to the Education Department, in his address at the opening ceremony. "The new schools constitute, indeed, a handsome and highly finished block. Situated healthily on the north side of the grove with main front overlooking the barracks and with opportunities for extensive bird’s eye views of the town from the upper windows, this three storey modern building is fitted with all the latest appliances." The opening ceremony took place in the central hall, a splendidly lofty and well ventilated apartment, which is to be used for special teaching occasions, evening meetings and musical entertainments etc.
Before 1870, Brighton children, except for the very rich, attended charity or church schools, such as the Union charity schools in Middle Street or the church schools in Russell Place. So many private schools for the wealthy were set up in Brighton that it was sometimes nicknamed School Town. But all this changed in 1870, with William Forster's Famous Education Act. Those who turned up to the opening of Elm Grove in 1893 were told that Mr Forster was responsible for having introduced into this country a complete supply of schools in the poorest as well as in the richest parts of our cities. The Act set up local school boards elected by ratepayers to run cheap education for children between 5 and 10 years old. By 1881 this education was made compulsory, and in 1891 it was provided free of charge to everyone. The Brighton School Board took over control of many charity schools and then started a rapid building programme, especially in the areas where population was increasing, such as Hanover Terrace, Finsbury Road and Circus Street and on Ditchling Road(Downs School) and Stanford Road. The School Board was abolished in 1902 and control handed over to the Borough Council. East Sussex became the education authority following reorganisation in 1974.
One interesting remark from George Kekewich at the opening was his hope that the usefulness of Elm Grove School would not be limited to being an admirable day school but that it would equally teem with scholars at night in connection with the Evening Continuation School movement, which practically amounted to Secondary Schools for the masses of the people. They had an enormous choice of subjects; they were not tied down to any particular curriculum. Looking all around he thought he might say the future of education seemed full of hope. He saw no diminution in the educational zeal of the people. Brighton Gazette & Sussex Telegraph, 6 July 1893.
The South elevation of Elm Grove School based on an 1892 drawing by the eminent schools architects Thomas and John Simpson
Elm Grove Junior Mixed Department-1906 Onwards
The school opened on the Monday 1st October 1906 in Wellington Street. There were 281 children on the books. They were taken from the Girls' Department, the Boys' Department and the Infants Departments, and 44 children were admitted from other schools. The Headteacher was Lillian Carver, and there was seating for only 128 children. By the end of the month all the furnishings were in place and the children were tested for the 'three RRR's'. Reading was generally good, but writing and arithmetic percentages were rather low. A visitor found “the school to have a bright and happy tone throughout. There is a large difference in the forwardness of the upper and lower halves of both standards." The work of the school carried on in an uneventful way. The clerk of the Education Committee visited the school and said in 1907, "This department has opened in October in premises which are well planned, bright and convenient. It has filled rapidly. The work done so far gives every promise of future success."
1906 Audrey Cowel's mother sitting in room 2
In 1908 an inspector wrote that, "This school, which has been opened for 16 months, has filled rapidly and is in good working order. The lowest class, consisting of children whose early education has from one cause or another been neglected, has been patiently and effectively taught, and the children have passed through it as rapidly as possible. In other classes the aims of the instruction are right, the methods are generally sound, and progress creditable, but something more might be done in the way of training the children to speak audibly and articulately; the map should be more in evidence in geography lessons and the stories in history should be less disconnected. An ample supply of reading matter should be provided, so that it should not be necessary to read over and over again books which have served their purpose, and books should not be retained in use when they are dirty, dilapidated and incomplete." Children were sometimes admitted to the school prior to and throughout the First World War, who could be as old as nine years old and who had never had the chance to go to school before.
Before and during the First World War there was a great deal of sickness. There were measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, mumps, ringworm, whooping cough and chicken pox. Children were often said to be verminous and sent home. Several children died. The inspector's report of 1913 remarks that, "The girls should have manual work as well as the boys. Nevertheless there is too much telling, too little appeal to the natural powers of the children, and too little perception of what they can do for themselves. This appears very clearly in the character of their reading, recitation and story telling, and in their speech. Their arithmetic would be satisfactory if they were disposed to guess instead of thinking. Some of the hard work, but not all, is educationally managed, and drawing is good. A room recognised for 60 is habitually occupied by two classes numbering together 83 children on the roll. The corridor is used practically all day long for classes: although warmed by a fire, it is often cold and draughty and unprovided with seats. This is not the purpose for which the corridor is intended and for which it is well suited."
The First World War 1914-1918
The war does not seem to have impinged on the school in the same way as the Second World War did. Student teachers seem to have been used a great deal. There was a great deal of sickness. In 1915 twenty children were supplied with boots from the New Year Boot Fund, a charity which had supplied boots to needy Brighton children since the late 19th century. 14th July 1915 was French Flag Day and a holiday was declared. Hop picking was very important, both during and after the war. Many children were away in September when whole families went to pick hops. In 1915 the hours of the afternoon session were changed from 2:00-4:30pm to 1:30-4:00pm on account of the Lighting orders (a form of daylight saving?).
In 1916 the school worked double sessions with St. Luke’s Terrace School, which had been taken over as a military hospital. Elm Grove School worked mornings from 8:30-12:30 for a month and then switched to afternoons for a month. There was an absence from school by children when their fathers came home on leave from the Front. Teachers also were away quite frequently, either from sickness or because of news of the death of loved ones at the Front. On 28th June 1918 the school was closed to celebrate its 25th birthday. Towards the end of 1918 there was an influenza epidemic and the school closed for four weeks. Several children died. There was no mention of the armistice on 11th November 1918 but on 17th July 1919 the school was closed for a peace holiday.
In 1921 the Inspector visiting the school said that because of the shortened day because of sharing premises with St. Luke's School, all pupils had been retarded. He asked that children should be moved up a class as soon as possible. Some needed special classes in order to catch up on work. In general, he commented that arithmetic was weak. In July, 1922 a small class of girls went to Queen's Park in order to study an island. The boys went up the Race Hill for geography. In December of 1922 there was an open day for mothers to attend and more than 100 mothers attended.
The Inspector's report of 1924 shows a great deal of improvement in standards. "The term tests were thoroughly carried out and each subject marked. The danger of assigning too much importance to the examination results, in the case of these young children, will doubtless be overlooked, the primary aim of these lessons being to add to the children's ideas and interests and practise them in ready continuous speech. It should be said that the children appear to take a genuine interest in these lessons and to talk readily about them."
Edna Morton says they wore their Sunday best for this photograph taken in 1930, the same year that Amy Johnson visited the school, after her record solo flight to Australia.
In 1927 the Inspector's report was not so flattering. He blames the fall in standards on the ill health of the Headmistress.
In 1928 the school was recognised and the Infants moved into the Wellington Street building. The bottom two floors of the large building became the Junior Mixed School for children aged 7-11 years with a new headmaster. There were now nine classes with 432 children on the roll. Work seemed to have continued smoothly during the following years. Race meetings were very important to the life of the school. The impression is given of thousands of people trooping up Elm Grove and the school having to close early to get the children home before the last race.
From the end of 1930 for fourteen months the school had to share premises with Lewes Road Juniors whilst their school was being rebuilt. The Inspector seemed pleased with school at the end of this period, although he refers to shortages.
Second World War
Before the start of the war on 3rd September there had been gas mask drills and discussions on evacuation plans with other head teachers in case of war. Term did not start until 18th September 1939 but attendance was normal and the staff complete. Finsbury Road Junior Mixed School and Hanover Terrace Junior Mixed School shared the Elm Grove building at the start of the war and Elm Grove was taught from 8.30am to 11.30am only. Trenches were dug in the boys' playground and a large number of evacuees applied for admissions but were sent on to St. Luke's School. No out of school activities were possible because of the upheavals. On 21st September there was respirator drill and A.R.P. wardens came to the school to test all the children’s' gas masks. There were 324 Elm Grove children at the school and attendance was 93.2%. The new timetable was intended to "keep junior children in touch with the 3Rs, with a mixture of a little singing and drill and handiwork exercises". Sessions were soon extended from 9 to 12 noon. On 5th October 1939 School closed for a week whilst teachers carried out a survey of billet accommodation for evacuees. On the 16th October the school started working afternoons only. When the Junior mixed school went to the air raid shelters the senior girls were there and there was not enough accommodation for all the school in the trenches. Weekly services resumed at St. Wilfred's Church after half term for the school. In spite of the difficulties, on 30th November 65 children and three teachers went to the ice ballet at the Stadium. Gradually, before the end of 1939, out sessions were organised away from the school in halls such as the Bentham Road Mission Hall.
1940 began with very bad weather and attendances at school were very low. The school was closed on 25th and 26th January because the outside lavatories were frozen. On 23rd February Finsbury Road School moved out of the Elm Grove premises which eased accommodation problems. On 6th March there was a better rehearsal of all air raid precautions. Sometimes there was no hall available for the out sessions and the children had to be sent home. The trenches remained crowded and the small children were confused as to what to do in case of an air raid but they were learning. On 6th May swimming instruction started as usual. There was a snap air raid practice as children were assembling. The Headmistress said "We learned much from the simple mistakes of the children". On 3rd June four steel helmets were issued to the trenches at Elm Grove (I wonder who used them!) Filters were fitted to the children's gas masks and children registered for possible evacuation "to Canada and the Empire". Aluminium saucepans were collected for war purposes. Summer holidays were from 26th July to 12th August in 1940 and it was then that air raids began in earnest. The staff and children pasted paper and net on many of the windows to give fuller protection against glass splinters. At the start of the school year there were 341 children on the roll. On the 20th September at noon "there was a sharp succession of exploding bombs in the neighbourhood. "Children's behaviour exemplary". On 9th November School worked on a Saturday Morning for the first time ever. Teachers were called up for service and replaced by supply teachers. As a treat on the 20th December arrangements were made for 50 children and two teachers to go to see the film Tom Sawyer.
Various schools and periods of sharing seem to have taken place but on 27th January the school managed to work for two full mornings and afternoon sessions and children were inoculated against diphtheria. Fire watching began at the school in the evenings and at weekends. It seems to have been done by teachers and some of the local people. A great deal of difficulty was caused when the school milk was delivered in quart bottles and had to be shared out. On 14th March School was closed until further notice. 83 children and three teachers were evacuated to Yorkshire because of the frequency of air raids in Brighton. However, school re-opened on 24th March with 270 children on the roll. The staff was: the head teacher, three permanent staff members and three supply teachers in six classes. There was a display from the Ministry of Information in the hall. On 7th July Miss Gill, the headmistress of the Infants School died and the school was closed. Fire watching still took place during the summer holidays with help local street watching fire groups. Mr Councillor Ingham and two other gentlemen addressed the school on "salvage". During the school holidays milk for the children was still available and savings were collected. The new school year from September to December seems to have seen some improvements in organisation. There were now seven classes.
At the start of the year the weather was bad and "the whole of the sanitation system and washing arrangements have broken down so the school had to be closed". There was a drive on the collection of salvage at the end of January. Above 9cwt of paper and cardboard has been collected. On 24th March there were discussions about what to do in case of invasion. During the Easter holidays the school was used as a Government Registration Centre for mothers and children to be evacuated if invasion threatened. A rota of teachers to carry out this work was arranged. On 19th May, there was what was termed "a minor blitz" and billeting was done from the school. Before the summer break classes 1 and 2 performed a play called "In Praise of Britain and her Empire". Although school was officially closed, on 4th August 26 children and four teachers voluntarily attended school. When the school reassembled for the new school year, all gas masks were overhauled in October and orders for replacements given to the children. On 12th October there was a bombing raid in a neighbouring part of the town but attendance seems to have been little affected. Before Christmas, on 17th December, a professional ventriloquist entertained the children.
The routine of monthly gas mask inspection and air raid drill continued. The school could be in the trenches in two minutes. On 29th March there was a special "Wings for Victory" savings drive which raised 49 pounds and 17 shillings and 6 pence. During the morning there was an "enemy attack" c there was lose to the school but no children were injured and discipline sound throughout. On 25th May there was an air raid on Brighton during dinner and attendance was low in the afternoon. At the end of the summer term the children performed a play called "Wings for Victory". On 22nd October the school windows were blasted by an air raid during the night and the school was closed for two weeks.
Life continued at the school with the children attending various parts of the day and the staff often absent through illness. Staff were still involved in billeting families who were, presumably, bombed out of their homes. School savings drives continued. On 21st September fire watching finished at the school. It had been going on since 17th February 1941. The amount paid out in fire watching subsistence during that period was 1080 pounds. The school still worked either mornings or afternoons. On 15th November normal morning and afternoon sessions were started. There was a Punch and Judy show before Christmas.
Bad weather at the start of the year. Gas masks were still inspected. 78 children attended the Mayor's party for Service Men's children. On 10th April the school assembled after Easter as a primary school under the new Education Act. On 8th and 9th May, the school was closed in celebration of Victory in Europe.
From the 1950s onwards
A typical class from 1950
One of the key developments for the two schools occurred in 1974, when the Infants School in Wellington Street became a First School for children from 4+ to 8+ and a great deal of building work was done to accommodate the extra year group. It was around this time that the hall and some extra classrooms were built. At the same time the Junior School became a Middle School for children of 8+ to 12+ and facilities were introduced into the main Elm Grove building for the teaching of science, craft and home economics.
An example of a typical end of term report from 1952
The school had newsletters to parents from 1979 onwards. The first dates from 7th September. In that first newsletter mention was made of saving ring cans and stamps. This recycling has continued ever since. The school shop was opened with a bumper sale of Christmas goods to raise funds for the school. Ten pence per term was also raised from each pupil. Since then there have been many ways mentioned of raising money for the school. There was a school fair in 1981.
1981 saw falling rolls at the school which left the school vulnerable to closure and the Head Teacher sent notes to parents denying rumours of this. In 1982 the campaign was effectively waged not to sell part of the building to the Church of England for an infants and junior school. On 24th September 1982 there was a momentous meeting with Joan Mont, of the Education Committee, to decide on the future of the two schools. Parents and teachers had campaigned well, because of strong opinions it was decided that an amalgamated school should be housed in the Middle School Building. In 1985 when the new Primary School opened there were only 185 children on the roll, which dropped to 175 in September 1987. After review of the school in 1987 the Primary Adviser wrote: "Considerable progress has been made in the last two years by welding the former schools into a cohesive whole. This is in no small measure due to the leadership given by the Head and the commitment of staff, both teaching and non-teaching." The latest event in the long history of the use of the building was in 1991 when the school regained possession of the old domestic science building. In 1992 Pepperpot playgroup opened after the building had been completely refurbished.
When the Kemptown Railway closed in 1971, this left the area behind the school available, adjoining what is now William Clarke Park, named after a much-loved Labour Councillor and former Mayor of Brighton, and in 1983 the school was able to hold its school sports day on this land. In 1988 the Woodland Walk project began with steps and paths being made. Under Operation Eyesore in 1989 the open space was cleaned up to improve the walk. The new gate was opened, and in 1990 a pond was installed. It is certainly a great asset for what is essentially a town centre school. Work was also started on improving the playground in 1991 with new brick flower beds, adventure equipment and a rubber crumb safety surface. All these events were recorded in the Evening Argus.
In 1990 the teaching of French in the school hit the headlines when The Independent published and article on the excellent teaching which was picked up by Radio Sussex, BBC South Today and even the Readers Digest. This teaching had been started in 1986.
Pond building day, 1990
Also in 1986 East Sussex County Council started a new experimental scheme for the local management of schools. Under the scheme the school received, in addition to the old capitation allowance for books and stationery, a generous budget for gas, electricity and oil. The surplus from this allowance could be spent on more books and equipment for the children. In 1990, with only 185 pupils on roll, Elm Grove was the smallest of eight Brighton primary schools chosen to pilot the national LMS scheme in East Sussex and run its own delegated budget. This gave the school the flexibility to manage a larger part of its funds and, through prudent spending, to equip all its classrooms and maintain the building and grounds to a high standard and develop the Woodland Walk, the infant adventure playground and refurbish the old domestic science building for use as a playgroup.
In 1983 the school held their first sports day in William Clarke Park on the old railway line, a unique setting for such sporting events.
In 1989 the national curriculum was introduced into the school with English, maths and science. Technology followed in 1990, history and geography in 1991 and music, art and PE in 1992. The first testing of six seven year olds took place in 1991 giving the class teacher an immense amount of complicated work.
In February 1993 the General Primary Adviser wrote, after his inspection, "The school is continuing to develop well and the head teacher and staff are to be congratulated on the progress made to date in the quest for high levels of achievement across the curriculum." On a lighter note the school supported Red Nose Day in 1993. The school continued to grow in size in the late 90’s and by 2000 was 3 form entry in Key Stage 1, with --- children on role.
The 21st Century
In January 2001 a new extension was opened comprising a restaurant, a new classroom and an ICT suite. In the same year the school’s toilets were completely refurbished and a programme of re-decoration was used to brighten up a number of areas in the school. Over the next few years further work to the building and grounds saw the development of quiet areas in both playgrounds, a sports activity area in the bottom playground and an amphitheatre in a section previously used as a woodland walk.
The school’s intake was officially reduced to 60 Reception children in 2004 and with 2 classes in every year group was able to create Reception Activity Room and an Art Room in spare classrooms.
Elm Grove has developed into an extended school, serving its community with a Breakfast and Out of School Club and providing services, support and activities for parents, families and children. In recent years we have achieved the Healthy Schools Award and the Sports Active Mark. In 2009 we received the Arts Mark.