Some thousands of years ago, a certain man led the "children" of a nation through a wilderness for forty years. Now, forty years is a long time and, although there was always the "promised land" ahead, there were so many set-backs and disappointments that the children can be forgiven if they developed a suspicion that the "promised land" was like the carrot perpetually set before the donkey.
The glorious privilege of youth is to look forward, but not the least of the pleasures of maturity is to look back, and I am able to go back forty years to my first acquaintance with this school, as a teen-ager who had just been successful in an examination known as "Matriculation" which was at the time the equivalent of a good G.C.E I had already spent four years in these venerable premises as a student of the Central Secondary School for Boys, and, as I look back, I can count almost on one hand the changes in the building and classrooms since that time. Apart from a few coats of paint, the most noticeable changes have been in the provision of a bigger staff-room and, in certain rooms, the installation of electric heating. I can remember wondering, as a boy, where on earth one could find Room 9, and what had happened to Rooms 20 to 48 and 51 to 59!
As it had been decided for me that I should become a teacher, I was transferred to an institution in Holly Street called the Pupil Teacher Centre, from which the Phoenix of the City Grammar School has arisen. The function of this school?, college?, Training Centre?, was to prepare its students whose ages ranged from sixteen to eighteen, for Training College or University, and an allowance of twelve pounds a year was paid to each boy and girl for two years. This was my first experience of co-education, although the boys were outnumbered by six to one.
Life here was hard but interesting. We attended eleven sessions a week including Saturday mornings, one of which (Wednesday afternoon) was a games session for the whole school! The complete course lasted two years, and during that time five half-days each week were spent at the "Centre" attending lessons on academic subjects, and five as pupil-teachers in various schools in the city - one pupil-teacher per school. Here, we learned to teach the hard way. We prepared four lessons per session for the classes of which we had charge, which we gave under the eagle eye of our headmaster. Every lesson was followed by a post-mortem, and a good deal of red ink in the "Notes of Lessons" book. Reports were made to "Centre" at frequent intervals, followed up very frequently by a spell on the carpet of the "Centres" Principal, Mr Arnold. Whatever Faults the system had, it had at any rate one merit; one knew before committing oneself to a College or University whether one had a flair for the profession.
In these more enlightened days, there is a good deal more freedom than there was at that time, when almost incredible restrictions were imposed on students. All the girls wore grey overalls with white starched collars and cuffs, and black woollen stockings. The boys wore dark lounge suits, which were the correct wear for the half-days which they spent as teachers. Boys and girls were forbidden to journey to and from "Centre" together and were not allowed to speak to one another on "Centre" premises, except in the presence of a member of staff. Indeed, talking was forbidden altogether except at break. Yes, life was hard but somehow we survived.
My association with the school was broken for a spell after one year at the "Centre", in order to do military service in the first World War. On demobilisation I went directly to University, and, by a stroke of fate, was sent to do my teaching practice at - of all the available schools - the Pupil Teacher Centre.
Since I had last seen it in 1917 (this was 1924), it had undergone remarkable changes. Under a new Principal (Mr Joseph Batey), it had become about five times its former size, with a corresponding increase of staff and had burst out of its former compact building. It was now a normal secondary school in all but name, and whilst it had a pupil teaching stream, it was no solely concerned with the training of potential teachers. Holly Street was still the head-quarters but there were annexes all over the centre of the City. Art was done at the Art School, and other classes were held in Carver Street Schoolroom, the Repertory Theatre and sundry other holes and corners, and teachers spent much of their time chasing from one building to another between lessons. The eleven-session week was still in force, but Saturday mornings were spent in our present building which was occupied during the rest of the week by the Central Secondary School. The large hall gave the Principal (not "Headmaster" yet!) The only assembly of the week. No other room would accommodate the whole school. There must b e many old students of the "Centre" who will remember the Saturday Morning Jamboree when Mr Batey directed the whole assembly (some 500 of us) in a mammoth choir practice!
Such was the state of affairs when I was appointed to the staff in 1925.
In 1933, the hallowed building we now occupy was condemned as being unsuitable for a school, and a wonderful new building was erected (on our playing field!) At High Storrs. The Central School boys and girls moved out and left the derelict site! This solved a problem for the powers that were. "Put the Pupil Teacher Centre in there for the time being - just until we can build a new school for them!" So in we moved. With all its drawbacks we were at any rate under one roof - or nearly so. We still had no Gymnasia and we had to find and level a new field. But we thought it a wonderful place and settled down to our new existence. We could now expand a little more, and we began to admit four forms each year of an equal number of boys and girls.
The depression of the early thirties dashed our hopes of a new building for a year or two, but we could wait. It would come very soon. Various sites were considered and plans drawn up.
In 1936, we finally gave up our pretence of being a Pupil Teacher Centre and became the City Secondary School, but the change in no way affected life at school, except that the Saturday morning session was given up, to everyone's joy. Five years later we again changed our name and became the City Grammar School.
The second World War in 1939 brought many changes. The most important, perhaps, was the temporary postponement of the new building. But there were minor effects. The situation of the school was thought to be vulnerable to air attack and a system of "Home Service" was evolved. We scattered to the homes of the pupils and little groups of students were taught in the houses of parents who allowed their homes to become classrooms. An elaborate time-table enabled teachers to go round the city and give instruction in subjects they had not done since their school days. The scare did not last very long, however, and in two or three months we were back in the old building.
We had, by this time, acquired a very good playing field at Hurlfield Road, with ample room for the new building when the time was ripe, but it was not to be. The district was found to be very short of primary school accommodation, so, as we had accommodation (of a sort), the new premises went to yet another school.
And so it has gone on throughout the years, until any mention at Speech Day of the new building became an occasion of a hearty laugh.
However, it does really seem that the wheels have begun to turn again, and we hear from time to time of a site in Stradbroke Road. Again plans have been drawn up for the building to be erected in the foreseeable future, so that, like the prophet of old, I may yet live to see the promised land but not enter it.