Heathfield High School (1979 - 2000)
The Girls Arrive!
Heathfield High School was created in 1979 when the Box Lane site was converted to an 11-18 mixed school. The headteacher at the time was Don Savage, who had been head at the Boys’ school since 1975. He told us how it felt to be in charge at this significant time in the school’s history: “I had the adventure of my life converting the school to an 11-18 mixed school. It really was an adventure. We already had the impetus in school to prepare ourselves; we were a very successful school and it was an exciting time. I remember the builders having to come in to convert some of the toilets ready for the girls and we thought it might be difficult for them coming from their small primary schools into this environment with some big lads, but actually the boys looked after them and it was never a problem. I think it brought out the best in them!”
The school was named Heathfield after the land upon which it was built – literally the Heath Field and the first mixed intake of boys and girls started in September 1979.
Mr Savage remembers his years at the school with great fondness. “I have had some good times in teaching, but being at Heathfield was one of the best. I had amazing support from the parents and the people of Congleton and it was a great adventure. It wasn’t easy coping with a mixture of different children in different years – it was a challenge, but it was good.”
The School Day
The school day changed quite a lot during its Heathfield days. Under Mr Whitby’s leadership, the school had a split lunchtime to cater for as many activities as possible and the lunch break was shortened to 40 minutes so that school was able to finish at 3pm.
The Heathfield uniform was brown, grey and orange. Blazers had a badge with the school motto – ‘Learn to Live’ on them. As Roland Machin recalls, there was a bit of a row about it at one point: “Students were using pen to change the ‘L’ of ‘Live’ to read ‘skive’, so the badges said ‘Learn to Skive’, which didn’t go down too well!”
In 1999 Roland Machin receive an MBE for Services to Careers Education. He recalls that the school was doing innovative work in careers education and vocational courses. “We had a YTS scheme where Sixth Formers were paid to be in school doing various jobs in the office or in engineering. They were paid to learn skills that would help make them more employable.”
Former Art teacher, Bob Griffiths, also recalls that students could do typing and office practice at school and they even had a proper telephone exchange for students to practice with.
Headteacher at the time, Keith Whitby, remembers Mr Machin receiving the award. “We had a HMI (before Ofsted) who used to come into school quite often and we had a very good careers department that Roland Machin was in charge of. This HMI nominated Roland and when he found out, he said “I can’t accept it – everybody has been involved in what we do”, so I told him “You’ve got to accept it – by you going up to get it, we all get a little bit of the glory. And so he did.”
School trips and events
One tradition that Mr Whitby remembers at Heathfield was on the last day of the Christmas term. “The Year 10 always put on a Christmas Fair to raise money for charity. Students set up games and brought food in to sell to other students and staff. Then in the afternoon we had the whole school in the hall, including the Year 7s cross legged on the floor and put on a Christmas show where all sorts of groups of students and staff would entertain the rest of the school. We had a lot of fun!”
Bob Griffiths also remembers the Christmas shows. “We did some epic Christmas shows. They were a sort of revue-type show where teaching staff and students would send themselves up. They were often based around what was on TV at the time. One year there was a Coronation Street spoof where Cath Bennett played Diedre Barlow. Another year David Wood did a spoof of Strictly Come Dancing with really awful dancing. The sketches were often irreverent (but vetted beforehand) and were the highlight of the year for the students. As a result, nobody skived off on the last day!”
Another Christmas tradition he remembers is that they always had a Christmas lunch where the staff would serve the students their lunch.
Former Headteacher, Don Savage recalls “We had a brilliant PTA and the Congleton community were always good and backed me on everything. We did the inaugural half marathon in Congleton and did a lot of fun runs. We also did lots of drama – productions like Joseph and The Wizard of Oz – and held garden parties on Sunday afternoons where I sold bread on the Head’s stall.” He also remembers buying the school’s grand piano “We found that this wonderful grand piano was for sale, but it needed a bit of work doing on it and some French polishing, so we did a 24 hour fundraising event where students and staff played music and sang for 24 hours non-stop in order to raise enough money to buy it. I think it cost a couple of thousand. The man who made it put his autograph under the keys.”
Diane Sadlier worked in various admin roles at the school from 1987 until 2001. Her first job was as a clerical assistant in reprographics, which was based in the Rosla block. “My jobs included typing and producing stencils and bandas. The bandas were then printed out using a machine which left me covered in purple ink a great deal of the time. The stencils were run off using a Gestetner machine – a huge thing which had to be cleaned down and maintained each week. My colleage Jayne Cottrell and I were issued with overalls to protect our clothes.”
Diane Sadlier remembers the first computers being installed. “The school had a room of BBC computers which were based within the Maths department and we also had a BBC computer in Reprographics. Mr Chas Hyde, a Maths teacher, and I shared the role of keeping them updated and showing staff and students how different software packages were used. We were christened ‘Bodgit and Scarper’! I remember one time we had great fun with a voice recognition package putting in people’s names and seeing what the computer made of them!”
Sports Centre built
The Sports Centre was built during Keith Whitby’s time as Headteacher. He recalls that it received a lot of media attention: “We were one of the first schools in the country to apply successfully for lottery funding to build the sports centre and we received a lot of coverage in the national and local press.”
The school received National Lottery funding in November 1995 and the Sports Hall opened on 18th July 1997. As former PE teacher, Lynda Arnold remembers, the school also had to do a lot of fundraising during that time. “Staff, parents and students worked hard together to raise the large amount of money we needed to support the lottery bid and parents were very supportive. On one occasion we held our own Proms, which included a meal followed by performances from students and staff. I was persuaded to play a piano duet with Mr Barlow – not something I enjoy doing in public – but we did it after a bit of a shaky start!”
Former teacher, David Wood recalled one particular fundraising event named Heathfield Hullabaloo which was a day of activities to raise money for the Sports Centre. As Head of Biology, he found himself running the Pets Corner. “I can’t remember that many coming, but I do remember a rather smelly ferret and at some point a small horse being brought in. I also remember, on a different occasion, watching Keith Williams, a senior teacher, herding about 6 Friesian cattle off the school field after they had got in through the hedge from the next door farm!”
Bob Griffiths also remembers that the headline act on the day was Freddie and the Dreamers. The lead singer Freddy Garrity, lived in Congleton at the time.
The end of another era
According to Keith Whitby, in the late 1990s there was a lot of co-operation between Dane Valley, Westlands and Heathfield: “The three heads, together with our curriculum deputies worked very closely together. We had a combined Sixth Form; each school didn’t run all of the courses so we had special buses laid on so that students could do classes at the other schools. There was fantastic collaboration – we made sure that the school day started at the same time in each school and there were gaps between certain lessons to allow students to travel from one site to another.”
He recalls that “We recognised that our facilities were never going to improve because the LEA couldn’t afford to improve all three schools. So there was an agreement amongst the Headteachers to talk to their Governors to see whether there was any appetite for moving from three to two schools. We saw it as a good thing for the students of Congleton.”
However, as Roland Machin recalls, this transition period was a difficult one for the school. “Staff morale wasn’t good and staff all had to re-apply for their jobs. Keith Whitby left and for a period of 6-8 months, the Deputy Head, Roy Dewings, took over as Acting Head.”
It was during this period that the school increased in size again, with the addition of the drama/music and MFL blocks and the Science block adjacent to the main teaching block.
Looking back on his time at HHS, Keith Whitby was very positive: “It was a great time. We built up a very good school. We had excellent staff and a lot of support from parents.”
Final day of HHS
The final day of HHS was marked with a big celebration party on the school grounds, probably not dissimilar to our 50th anniversary celebrations. There were lots of fun activities on offer, including tethered hot air balloon rides, giant slides, karaoke and many staff and students in fancy dress. Former teacher, David Wood recalls how he felt: “There were mixed feelings on the last day, lots of reminiscences and lots of fun and games. The staff were being broken up so we were saying goodbye to them and anticipating new staff and extra kids, mainly from the old Westlands site.”
Do you have any similar memories of your time at the school? If so, we would love to hear from you. Please e-mail Mr Hickton with details.