Jan 21 2011 By Ian Proctor
PAST and present pupils and students have been celebrating the centenary of Harrow High School and Sports College and its predecessors.
The school opened in 1911 as a boys-only grammar school before being turned into a comprehensive in 1975 and renamed Gayton High School.
In 1998 it transformed into a mixed secondary school called Harrow High School and admitted girls for the first time, and earned specialist sports college status in 2002.
Former pupil and ex-Tory cabinet minister Michael Portillo unveiled a commemorative plaque on Friday (Jan 21) at the start of a series of events being held this year to mark the occasion.
Dr Keith Baker, 63, chairman of the Old Gaytonian Assocation and a Northwood resident, said: “I was here between 1958 and 1963 and it was very much the story of a strong state education.
“It was a very disciplined school and our headmaster use to think of us as the school at the bottom of the hill compared to a small school you may have heard about at the top of the hill?
“He felt we were in competition with Harrow School and was very keen on promoting academic excellence, and the school reached the pinnacle of becoming the second best state school in terms of achievement.”
There were about 900 boys in Dr Baker's day, when it was called Harrow County School for Boys and had the Latin motto 'Virtus non Stemma', meaning 'Worth, not birth' and reflecting the fact it was the borough's first state secondary school, founded in the wake of the 1902 Education Act.
Some of the original buildings as well as the school clock and a stained glass window above the front door – dedicated to former pupil Sir John Boothman, who won the Schneider Trophy in 1931 in a seaplane race - have been preserved although the motto has been swapped for 'Excellence For All' and the uniform unsurprisingly modernised.
Headteacher Paul Gamble said: “We now have 850 young people but the school buildings are a lot bigger – there were extensions in the 1950s, '80s and '90s and most recently the sixth form block. However, it still feels manages to feel crowded!”
While the ethos of academic excellence still exists today, the make-up of the student body is a lot different, not least it accepts both sexes and is non-selective.
Forty per cent of the cohort count English as a second language and the same level have some sort of special educational needs.
“We have a curriculum that allows everybody to achieve something and we're proud of that,” Mr Gamble said.
“Our teaching staff work extremely hard to ensure our learners have these opportunities.”
Mr Portillo, who was a pupil between 1964 and 1971 when he lived in Stanmore, told the Observer: “I'm full of memories, being here. I was here at the period of transition because my first year was the last for the old-fashioned headmaster Dr Simpson, who would beat boys with canes, slippers.
“He was replaced Mr Avery. He encouraged very academic achievement and in my year 22 boys went to Oxford and Cambridge universities.
“Like a public school, the emphasis was on the classics and Latin was compulsory while I was here.
“There were no fees and you had to sit the 11+ exam to get in. There were four houses: Welldon, Northwick, Preston and Kenton.
“Very importantly, there were scouts and cadets and you had to be a member of one or the other. I was a Scout and the school had its own troop – the 4th Harrow – that had four different divisions.
“The roll was about 900 pupils and the sixth form accounted for 300 of those. We used to study pretty hard.
“We spent three years in sixth form, rather than the current two, and so we were intensely prepared for university.”
Spotting a current pupil modelling the uniform from his days at the school, Mr Portillo said: “We wore a dark green blazer, and a cap, to be worn all the time you were outside of school so even if you were three miles from the school but were spotted by a prefect without your cap, you would get detention.
“Unfortunately, when I was 13, I had a prefect living the same street as me so I had to wear my cap all the way to my front door!”
Former pupil William Swan, who flew hurricanes during the Second World War and went on to have a successful career in the Foreign Office, said: “Everyone thought highly of of every boy who was a county school boy.
Mr Gamble said: “This is an extremely special day for the school. This is where we celebrate the great history of the school over the last 100 years.
“It's a chance to reflect on the excellent outcomes and fantastic journeys of our ex-students and to look forward to the fantastic achievements of our current and future pupils.”
Gayton centenary lecture by Professor Kel Fidler – Feb 16
Gayton centenary lecture by Sir Nigel Sheinwald - May 21
Gayton centenary lecture by Sir Paul Nurse – Sept 7
Concert 'Voices that should be heard' - Mar 26
Old Gaytonian Association annual dinner - Apr 1
Recording of BBC Radio 4 'Any Questions?' at school – May 6
School v Old Gaytonian Association Twenty20 cricket match - May or late Summer
Grand centenary dinner - Oct 15
Exhibition and tours at the school - Oct 16
Sunday matinée cinema and social – Oct 16
Remembrance Day commemoration - Nov 11
Old Gaytonian Association autumn Lunch - Nov 27
Photo Credit: Regents College London