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Ryburn Valley High - a class act for half a century

Summer 1956. Plans are being drawn up for a brand new mixed secondary school for the children of Sowerby Bridge and the Ryburn valley.

The award-winning design costs 207,000 – the equivalent of 3 million today – and building work takes two and a half years.

During the February 1959 half-term holiday, pupils from Sowerby Bridge Girls School and those from Sowerby Bridge Boys School, move books and equipment into the large, modern Ryburn County Secondary School.

After the holiday, 600 pupils start in bright classrooms with new desks and the latest state-of-the-art equipment.

That was 50 years ago and in the years that have elapsed since the two schools merged, a tremendous reputation for academic achievement has been established.

As celebrations begin to mark this significant milestone, Tony Heptinstall who has taught history at the school for 40 years, stressed how important it was for pupils to understand what they have inherited.

"I have been there a long time and a bit of tradition is good for the pupils, to breed a bit of feeling for the school," he said.

To kick things off around 120 former students and members of staff were invited to a community lunch. A chance to recall times gone by and compare their experiences with how things are now.

Mr Heptinstall said that over 50 years he believed Ryburn had progressed from a good, secondary modern into a very successful, large comprehensive school.

"The remarkable success has been achieved by the hard work and commitment of everyone connected with the school – teachers, pupils, governors and all other staff members. During my 40 years at Ryburn I have always been impressed by the dedicated, talented teachers I have worked with.

"The majority of pupils too have made a huge contribution to the success of Ryburn School. Their willingness to learn, make progress and meet new challenges in all fields is impressive."

The first head teacher of the new school was called Robert Miles. He established its caring atmosphere and sporting and cultural life and was responsible for the first first skiing trip, to Glencoe, Scotland, in 1968. Thirty boys paid 16 for the trip.

In 1969 Mr Miles retired and John Widdowstook over as head.

Three years later the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16 and three mobile classrooms were erected "temporarily" to accommodate the extra 150 pupils when a new block was not finished in time.

In 1973 a safety scare about the use of high alumina cement closed the main block for a term. Years 1 and 2 were bussed to an empty school, Victoria Road Primary School, in Brighouse.

The following year Morton Roberts became head and Calderdale Education Authority took control of the school.

The advent of the comprehensive system system gave birth to the name Ryburn Valley High School in 1979. The school was now open to pupils of all abilities aged 11 to 18. It included a specialist sixth form block and A-levels courses in history, English and maths were introduced.

The school's reputation and popularity grew under Tony Thorne, who took over the headship in 1986.

"The number of pupils increased from 850 to 1,000 and then to 1,200 as parents from all over Calderdale chose to send their children to Ryburn. Excellent Ofsted reports and examination results meant that Ryburn was soon bursting at the seams, despite more and more huts appearing each year," said Mr Heptinstall.

By the mid-1990s Ryburn was overcrowded. Under Ian Adam's headship the school continued to be successful and a brand new 14 million building, to accommodate 1,300 pupils, was built next door to the old school, opening in February 2005.

"It is a magnificent building which the pupils and staff of Ryburn deserve. The old school and the huts were demolished to make way for a new Astroturf area, a huge sports hall and playing fields," said Mr Heptinstall.

The school was awarded Media Arts status, and in the sixth form, the V Project was introduced, giving students the chance to volunteer in the local community and overseas.

When Mr Adam retired in 2008, Honor Byford took over as head and the latest era began.

"Several years ago, Mr Miles remarked that he felt a great responsibility on his shoulders, having been given a completely new school to lay the foundations and to organise, and that he hoped he had got it right. He did, and everyone connected with Ryburn should feel proud of his legacy," he said. It included a specialist sixth form block and A-levels courses in history, English and maths were introduced.

The school’s reputation and popularity grew under Tony Thorne, who took over the headship in 1986.

“The number of pupils increased from 850 to 1,000 and then to 1,200 as parents from all over Calderdale chose to send their children to Ryburn. Excellent Ofsted reports and examination results meant that Ryburn was soon bursting at the seams, despite more and more huts appearing each year,” said Mr Heptinstall.

By the mid-1990s Ryburn was overcrowded. Under Ian Adam’s headship the school continued to be successful and a brand new 14 million building, to accommodate 1,300 pupils, was built next door to the old school, opening in February 2005.

“It is a magnificent building which the pupils and staff of Ryburn deserve. The old school and the huts were demolished to make way for a new Astroturf area, a huge sports hall and playing fields,” said Mr Heptinstall.

The school was awarded Media Arts status, and in the sixth form, the V Project was introduced, giving students the chance to volunteer in the local community and overseas.

When Mr Adam retired in 2008, Honor Byford took over as head and the latest era began.

“Several years ago, Mr Miles remarked that he felt a great responsibility on his shoulders, having been given a completely new school to lay the foundations and to organise, and that he hoped he had got it right. He did, and everyone connected with Ryburn should feel proud of his legacy,” he said.

 
 
 

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