Leeds nostalgia: going old school at Foxwood

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In the first of a new occasional series looking at old schools in Leeds, Times Past looks at the history of the city’s first comprehensive school, which was opened almost 60 years ago.

Foxwood School in Seacroft was opened as a comprehensive secondary school for boys in September 1956 but building work on the £176,487 project continued for another two years on the 32-acre site.

In its first year just 300 boys attended the school, the plan being to increase that by around 300 each year until its capacity of just over 1,500 was reached, under the headship of Matthew Rowlands, 38, previously deputy headmaster at Caludon Castle Boys Comprehensive, Coventry.

The comprehensive system of schooling came about as a result of the Education Act 1944, which stated children should receive the type of education most suited to their abilities, this being determined by the 11-plus examination.

There were three types of school: secondary grammar, secondary technical and secondary modern. However, some in education argued it was not possible to determine the capabilities of children at 11 and they therefore backed a more comprehensive system, which would include aspects from all three of the existing types of education.

At Foxwood, during the first two years from 11-13, the curriculum included English, mathematics, sciences, music, woodwork, arts and crafts, history, geography, religious studies, foreign languages, games and physical education. At the age of 13, boys would be able to choose various courses more suited to their abilities.

The system had its critics but Foxwood seemed to be working well, producing pupils good enough to enter Cambridge without interview. One such, Howard Buchanan, speaking in January 1965 at age 19, said: “I was given a chance to improve myself, I was placed in the modern stream and I worked my way up.” At the time, he was studying English at Emmanuel College.

By 1974, there were some 1,600 pupils at Foxwood - boys and girls, the school becoming ‘mixed’ in 197 - and 97 teaching staff. It drew pupils from across East Leeds but mostly from Seacroft and the 25,000-strong population.

The history of the school is entwined with that of the area in which it stood, Seacroft being purchased in 1934 by Leeds Corporation, initially to house people made homeless by the slum clearance programme. The Corporation purchased 1,000 acres and would eventually build over 7,000 houses on the land.

The school had a residential farmhouse at Horton-in-Ribblesdale and in October 1965, headmaster Rowlands authorised the purchase of a former ambulance for £25, which he said would be used to transport staff and pupils to the outward bounds centre.

The farmhouse itself, at Newhouses, was bought by the school’s Parents’ Association.

The Brooklands Avenue school changed its name in September 1992 to become East Leeds High School, although at one point it was destined to be the Dennis Healey High School but this idea was dropped because the initials DHSS were synonymous with the Department for Housing and Social Security, which some thought would have negative connotations. East Leeds High closed in 1996 and the building demolished in 2009.

Did you go to Foxwood? If so, please get in touch.