The new Headmaster was Donald Woodhead, a Yorkshireman and graduate of Leeds University in History. He came from the Gateway School, Leicester, where he was Head of History and Senior Games Master. The Gateway School was one of the first Secondary Technical Schools, and had built up a high reputation as a leading exponent of this new and experimental approach to education from 11 onwards. Mr. Woodhead had spent a day in June looking round the school and meeting staff, and he took up his appointment on 1st September,1952.
Technical schools had existed in Manchester for some years as Junior Technical Schools-Newton Heath, Openshaw, Junior Art School, Day Trade School for Girls, Junior Commercial School and School of Building-but they recruited almost exclusively at 13, had a two year course, were closely linked with Technical Colleges and were really regarded as trade schools. The new conception of the Secondary Technical School was that of a school recruiting at 11 by selective examination, thus gaining able children, with a 5 year course, a 6th form, and having courses which had a more practical element and approach. By these opportunities for work of a practical nature, boys and girls would be encouraged to look forward purposefully and confidently towards a career. The word "technical" was used in its broadest sense, applying to girls as well as boys. The curriculum was not narrowly vocational, but one which struck a balance. This "alternative road", which was to be publicised by the Crowther Report of 1959, was held to be one which could be very suitable for many children. In theory, after the selection examination, parents would choose either Technical or High School, both types being equal in status, and having parity in terms of accommodation, facilities, resources and staffing. This was the ideal situation, and Manchester embarked on this experiment by changing its Central Schools-or some of them-.nto Secondary Technical Schools, beginning with Ardwick. Thus a new element was introduced into the Secondary Education field. Within the next few years,14 such schools were established, including some new ones. Clearly, the new Headmaster was faced with a vastly different situation from that facing his predecessor when he began. Mr. Peake inherited a firmly established school situation, which, after steering the school through the war years, he brought to the highest possible level of achievement and reputation. The situation in 1952 required re-organisation and vital changes to be carried out as quickly as possible, and the Headmaster was able to say that "this fine school has now been given the opportunity of succeeding even further, of extending its range, of increasing its facilities and widening its vision".
The problems facing the new Headmaster were formidable. At the last H.M.I. Inspection in 1937, it was reported that "The school, with an accommodation of 420 is full". No additions to the building had been made since then and clearly the accommodation available was quite inadequate, bearing in mind the increase in numbers and the need for more specialist facilities. Also, much of what existed needed modernising. In addition, the whole idea of a basic 5 year course had to be publicised both internally and externally, together with the fact that a 6th form had to be developed as soon as possibie. At the same time, the Central Schools Examination had to be phased out. A third problem was the curriculum. Subject syllabuses and organisation had to be altered to be more suitable for longer courses with a technical bias. Finally, the existing staff had to be involved in these changes, not least of all because higher attainment levels were to be required. Opportunities were being extended and sights raised higher.
The problem of accommodation took some time to resolve, and was the subject of many meetings with the Inspectorate, especially Dr. Laybourn and Miss Smith. A survey showed that by 1955/6, 7 additional classrooms would be needed. To provide relief quickly, it was decided to use 2 rooms and the Hall in the Octagon Congregational Church Schoolroom on Stockport Road and this accommodation became available from September 1953. The problem of the craft centres needed resolving immediately. For the girls, the laundry building was to be modernised and allocated to Ardwick Secondary Girls'School, together with the Tiverton Street Centre. Laundry faciNties were to be provided in the Technical High School Housecraft room on the top floor, and stock was to be divided equally between the two schools. Each school was also to have one full time Domestic Science teacher on establishment, with this whole plan effective from December, 1952. For boys, the basement Handicraft room was now quite inadequate, especially since Metalwork was to be introduced as soon as possible. Indeed a 2 year Metalwork course for some 1st and 2nd year boys began at Bank Meadow Centre, under Mr. Marsden, in September 1952. This centre was a former war-time British Restaurant, recently converted, taking boys from several schocis, including Nicholls Secondary School for Boys. It was situated at Pin Mill Brow, some ten minutes awayfrom school. Classes reported and were dismissed from there, with mid morning changes presenting the real difficulty. It was decided to establish there two Woodwork rooms, one Metalwork room, an Engineering Workshop and a Drawing Office, mainly for Technical High School use. The vacated basement room would be converted into a Physics Laboratory, with Store and Preparation rooms, and in close proximity to the Chemistry Laboratory. The move to Bank Meadow began in December 1953, and one of the Woodwork rooms was in use by January 1954. By April, both Woodwork and one Metalwork room were in use. Work on the new Laboratory began in December 1953, and it was in full use by September 1954.
Admirable as these changes were, there was still a need for further alterations. The Housecraft room was still not adequate, and it was decided to remove the existing fireplace, and lengthen the room at the expense of the small medical room adjacent, in order to give storage space. Yet the new bias of the curriculum, with its greater emphasis on Craft, Science and Art necessitated further changes. Rooms 3,4 and 5 on the top corridor were drastically altered. Rooms 4 and 5 were merged to form a larger modern Art Room and storeroom. The old Art room across the corridor was converted into a second Domestic Science room, adjacent to and connected with the first one. Room 3, extended, became a new Needlework room. The old one in the basement was converted into a Sixth Form Chemistry Laboratory, next door to the Chemistry Laboratory, which was extensively modernised. These changes were completed by September 1955, and this meant that the top floor had a Domestic Science - Needlework -Art block, and the basement had Physics - Chemistry - 6th Form Laboratories and a Lecture Theatre.
Mr. Peak had pressed hard for a library. Finally, by March 1953,12 unit book shelves,1 notice board and 1 book display jacket unit were delivered and fitted, and tables sent to replace desks. Books ordered for the library had been sent earlier and stored in the Headmaster's room. New library furniture (tables and chairs) arrived in June 1954, and, although the room had still to be used as a classroom, the school finally had a library. By September 1953, Mr. R.H. Keast, M.E.C. Inspector for Further Education had become District Inspector for the School, and he agreed that facilities for Commercial subjects were very poor. Typewriting and Shorthand,commenced in the 3rd year, were taught in ordinary classrooms. No improvement was possible yet, although several new typewriters were delivered in November 1953. There were other problems of accommodation which were, as yet, insoluble. Toilets were outside the main building, "across the yard", and the two staffrooms, one for men and one for women, were rooms which initially had been intended as store rooms. Heated by a coal fire-one bucket of coal per room per day-with no clear light, they were grossly over-crowded in out-of-lesson time, and any storage space was at the expense of valuable seating. There was no separate changing accommodation for P.E. Staff-indeed a request was made for individual lockers to ease this problem. It was found that the hot water supply in the building was inadequate. This was alleviated by the installation of Ascot heaters in several rooms by the end of October 1953.
Useful as the Octagon building was, it was often very cold there, because sometimes the heating system or coke supplies failed. In 1955, it was not possible to hold the "Mock" examination in the Hall there because of the cold. For an experimental period, Music classes were held there. To give more room in the Gymnasium the old platform was removed, and a new one constructed in the Hall, where assemblies were held in the future, because there was better ventilation, outside noise from traffic was less troublesome, and there was slightly more space. The Gymnasium was used for assembly by Ardwick Secondary Girls'School on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and Friday afternoons for some time, until St. Matthew's Hall (the old school building) became available to them. In December 1952, the Headmaster arranged for 4 lady members of staff to read the lesson in assembly during the week. Apparently this was the first time that ladies had taken part. Shortly afterwards, one assembly each week was held separately for boys and girls, with Miss Welborn organising and taking the girls' assembly. -The taking of assembly had always been the prerogative andduty of the Headmaster-the official collective beginning of the day.
Occasionally, the building suffered damage, twice from "break-ins" over a weekend, when, on one of these occasions the Headmaster's room was ransacked, and locks and cupboards forced open all over the building. Once, in May 1955, there was serious flooding, caused during building alterations on the top floor. Water went right through to the basement during the night. Classrooms in the Secondary Girls'School had to be used for the morning, and Years 1,2 and 3 were sent home after dinner. Heating was restored, and although normal time-table was resumed next morning, it was several days before things were normal again. In May 1954, a master radio and record-player system was installed in the Headmaster's room with relay facilities to the Hall, Lecture Theatre and Room 6, and two special notice boards for careers information were fitted. As these building changes took place, the school had to suffer a good deal of inconvenience. School meals were also disrupted. As early as September 1952, Miss Mander, M.E.C. School Meals Organiser produced plans for re-organising the canteen. Work began in December 1953, from which time container meals were served in St. Matthew's Hall. A return to the Gymnasium was made in February 1954, but still with container meals, until normal service was resumed in March 1954, when Miss Earley began as Supervisor.
The second problem to be dealt with was the need to establish the 5 year course. The matter was discussed frequently at meetings with the Inspectorate and with Mr. W. R. Hey, M.E.C. Assistant Education Officer for Schools. It was felt that from September 1953, the leaving age should be raised to 16. This would apply to those joining then, and parents would be required to sign an agreement. Present scholars were to be encouraged to stay for 5 years. The Central Schools examination was to end for the school after 1953, with an internal leaving certificate available from 1954 for those still leaving after 4 years. These details were approved by the Education Committee in February 1953, and put to parents of 2nd and 3rd year children in March at a meeting attended by 220 parents. 1st year parents had attended a meeting in December 1952 and these points had been made after they had seen Form Teachers and Staff. Also, in February 1953,4th year parents attended an evening when they met staff and heard from the Headmaster of the advantages of a 5th year. Entry to the school was still to be by parental choice following the results of the selection examination. The theory of parity between High Schools and Technical Schools was important, if the latter were to be successful, and it was a sincere hope that movements towards this parity could be set in motion as soon as possible. In the selection system, there were opportunities for transfer from one type of school to the other, but this only happened infrequently. Consideration was given to the school having an entry at 13+, following an examination, but this idea was dropped. Eventually, an additional examination was established for the five year leavers. G.C.E. "O" Level was the main goal, yet it was felt that some other examination, with a more "technical bias" ought to be available. After discussions, the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes Examination Board set up a Secondary School Certificate examination for those completing a 5 year course, and this began in 1956. In general terms, this encouraged courses with a more practical content and was more suitable to those selective children of less academic ability. It became a popular examination with many schools. There was also the Royal Society of Arts Examinations, and at Ardwick all scholars were able to be entered for one of the examinations, or a combination of two or three, generally for a minimum total of three or four subjects. For those who were able to exercise the right to leave after 4 years and did so, the internal certificate, with its examination result and assessment, was used first in July 1954.The fundamental changes in the school course did not adversely affect recruitment. The entry in 1952 (4 year course) was 152, into 4 forms of 38. This had to be the last of the 4-form entries because of accommodation, and in future the entry was 3-form. By January 1953, the roll was 483. In 1954, it was 516. It had been the policy of the Committee, by agreement with Lancashire County Council, to allow some extra district children into the selective schools. This practice had been discontinued for Ardwick, but now,because the neighbouring authorities had no Secondary Technical Schools, some places were allocated to them and in September 1954,10 county children were admitted. In September 1953, 32 stayed for a 5th year, in September 1954, the total was 53 and this meant an extension of "O" Level work. The 6th Form began in September 1953, with 1 boy (E. Frow) and 2 girls (Beryl Wadsworth and Barbara Grattidge). The girls,intending Housecraft Teachers, began an advanced course in that subject and took more "O" level courses. After two years they both gained places at Manchester College of Housecraft. The boy began advanced mathematics and took "O" Level in two more science subjects, before proceeding into Further Education. By 1954, there were 10 in the 6th form, with "A" Level work in Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature, French and R.l. A General Studies course was introduced and further "O" Levels were available as necessary for these Sixth Formers.
Another task arising out of the changed character of the school was that of amending the curriculum. This was discussed at length with the Inspectorate, and it was decided that after the 2nd year, boys and girls should enter one of four streams for the next three years, Academic, Domestic, Commercial or Technical. A closer account will follow in the next chapter. At the same time, the staff had to be closely involved in these developments. Their co-operation at all times was excellent. The Headmaster discussed progress and plans at staff meetings in December 1952 and June 1953. Subject meetings were held frequently, sometimes including the Inspectorate. For the first eighteen months, Mr. Stevenson, Chief Inspector chaired meetings between the 4 Secondary Heads in the Ardwick complex, when the content of courses and possible transfers were discussed, as well as matters of common interest.
The measure of the growing strength of work at 5th year level soon became apparent. In June 1953,21 candidates took "O" Level in 113 subjects and passed in 68% of them,16 passing in 3 or more subjects. In June 1954, 33 candidates entered for 235 subjects, with 48% success (21 gained 3 or more passes). During these years, the curriculum was extended by experimenting with some different types of Craftwork-Bookcraft and Weaving in the first two years, and by introducing Spanish as a foreign language for some from the 3rd year. A little extra time for French was allocated for some forms in the first two years.
School games continued with enthusiasm. There had been a suggestion that Rugby might be introduced for boys and it was tried for one term for the 2nd year in 1951, but there was not much enthusiasm. Soccer was too deeply entrenched. Debdale Park was used for winter games for boys, since Grey Street Recreation area was no longer available from October 1953. The Cup team lost the Central Schools Trophy in May 1954, but the Netball teams continued their excellent record of success. In 1953, the Junior, Intermediate and Senior teams won their finals, the Central Schools team losing in their semi-final. Never before had one school won 3 out of 4 Trophies. In both 1954 and 1955 the Senior and Intermediate teams won; and the Technical Schools team shared their Trophy in 1955. When Life Saving Medals were gained, which was often, they were always presented in assembly. Although Debdale Park had been the main site for games over the years, it was not completely satisfactory for boys, and a search went on for some alternative. Eventually, the Civil Service Sports Ground in North Road near Monsall Hospital was offered, and after some preparatory work, was brought into use in January 1954. There was changing and storage accommodation, one football pitch, a possible hockey area and space for athletic practice. Year groups of boys and some girls-hockey was reintroduced for the 1 st and 2nd years-were conveyed there for periods 6 and 7 on four afternoons. This field eventually proved very useful for boys'football and mixed athletic training, but the girls continued to use Debdale in the summer. The Swimming programme continued as usual, with regular visits by groups to the baths.