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News > 35 Years of Co-education > Co-Education Memories from Mr Penny

Co-Education Memories from Mr Penny

Andrew Penny taught music at Hymers College from 1977 until 2022, before and after the school became fully co-educational

Before Co-Education at Hymers: A reflection by Andrew J Penny

This year, we are rightly celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the introduction of Co-Education at Hymers College in 1989. However, when I began teaching woodwind at the school in 1977, during John Ashurst’s headship (Headmaster 1971-83), there were already a few girls attending the sixth form to do their A Levels. Well before I arrived, I gather that in 1971 Hilary Atkinson attended for a term, joining the third year Sixth Form set, to prepare for the 7th term Oxbridge examinations.

A year later, Eileen Kenny (OH 1972), Frances Walker (OH 1972-74) and Jane Hawkins (OH 1972-74) were the next three girls to arrive at the school, but it was a few years later before the next intake arrived.

The 1978 Hymerian mentions Véronique Bouchet (OH 1975-77) and Jacqueline Sprinz (OH 1975-77) as leaving to take up University places in 1977. Richard Skelton (OH 1973-82), then a youngster in the Junior School, once told me that he and his friends were very enamoured of Veronique as she wafted past them with her flowing hair. A photograph in the 1978 Hymerian entitled 'The Young Ladies of the College' shows Jane Mattison (OH 1977-79), Helen Parsons (OH 1976-78), Clare Lancaster (OH 1977-79), Helen Swinburn (OH 1977-79), Christine Jennings (OH 1976-78), Rosemary Childs (OH 1977-79) and Annette Cole (OH 1977-79), members of the lower and upper sixth.

The 1979 Hymerian shows Helen Parsons and Christine Jennings with A Level success in 1978 heading off to university. Clare Lancaster, a fine flautist, is mentioned in the Music Report; she would have played in the first performance of my newly formed Wind Band.

In the 1980 edition it is clear that Clare Lancaster, Rosemary Childs, Annette Cole and Helen Swinburne were off to University too; however, the striking thing in the photographs accompanying the Drama Reports in all of these years is the number of girls who took part in the plays.

Exam success and subsequent University entrance recorded in the 1981 Hymerian credit Fiona Gaskin (OH 1978-80), Katherine Paul (OH 1978-80), Amanda Halliwell (OH 1980), Barbara Kitchen (OH 1978-80) and Susan Latimer (OH 1978-80). I was the Musical Director of 'A Victorian Gallimaufry', the first of many collaborations with Neil King (OH Staff 1974-2006) over the years, reviewed in the same issue and was pleased to read a rave review for Jane Thomas (OH 1980-82), Sara Fidler (OH 1980-82) and Frances Prickett (OH 1980-82) who sang 'Three Little Maids from School' from The Mikado. There were other girls in the cast too; Gina Haskins (OH 1980-82) and Clare Wildey (OH 1980-82), for example, with many more helping backstage.

By the time the 1984 Hymerian appeared, Bryan Bass (Headmaster 1983-90) had been appointed. We can see that there were now ten girls leaving with A Level qualifications that year, including Sally Ashurst (OH 1981-83), the previous Head’s daughter, who had participated in Neil’s production of Much Ado About Nothing in 1983. I think I arranged the music for that play and certainly remember writing a song for David Imrie (OH 1973-83) to sing.  Susan Warburton (OH 1981-83), another leaver that year, was a great contributor to the flute sections of Band and Orchestra at the time.

We can read amongst other things of the dramatic achievements of Fiona Platt (OH 1983-85) and Sally Hick (OH 1983-85). I mention them in particular as they were both woodwind students of mine at the Hull High School for Girls until their arrival at Hymers. This indicates a trend that became quite normal from that day to this; the traffic of students between Hymers and Tranby for a variety of reasons, which has benefitted both schools and continues to do so. I have always felt there was room for both institutions and hated the rivalry between them which was perpetuated and stoked by Heads of both. Around this time, I actually worked two days at one and three days at the other and thought both had differing qualities in providing different types of education. At this time, however, it was Hymers who benefitted; the artistic and intellectual qualities brought by Fiona Platt, Sally Hick, Emma Twinham (OH Years 1985-87) and other defectors added enormously to the status of the school and paved the way for complete co-education at Hymers in 1989.

The 1985 Hymerian has a review of one of my favourite collaborations with Mr King, The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster. Fiona and Sally were in it, Andrew Edwards (OH 1975-85), Henriette 'Bibi' Berki (OH 1983-85) and many of my pupils such as Patrick Donohue (OH 1975-85) were in the pit orchestra of students and staff. I had arranged a musical score for the production which I had rather forgotten about until I saw a video (!) of the show years later and was rather pleased with it. The reviewer in the magazine makes it quite clear that the three girls, Sally, Fiona and Bibi, rather stole the show and I agree.

I will finish this review of the influence of girls on Hymers College in the 1980s with a glance at the Hymerian of 1986. The Music Report names Alison Bingham (OH 1984-87), Helen Tordoff (OH 1985-87), Samantha Thompson (OH 1984-86) and Ann Collier (OH 1984-86) making great contributions to the cultural life of the school. They were the few, following the example of all those pioneers mentioned above, who paved the way for the hundreds of girls who have brought great distinction to the school since then.

I read in Hymers College: The First Hundred Years (F.W. Scott, OH 1925-34, Alex Sutton, OH Staff 1962-2002 and Neil King) that Bryan Bass had two previous attempts to get the Governing Body to accept Co-Education. I had forgotten this but do remember Bryan coming into the Common Room at some stage and asking how many Staff had experience of teaching girls. As a Post Graduate I had taught Woodwind one day a week at the Manchester High School for Girls, so volunteered that information for what it was worth. 

Many Old Boys were opposed to it all of course; I remember John Townend (OH 1942-51), speaking at an OH Dinner, complaining bitterly that Bass had forced the issue through and then left the school one year later! (Bryan was the first Headmaster of Hymers to leave the post in order to take up a new job rather than retiring; he was recruited to lead the City of London School into a new tomorrow; a huge opportunity really.)  Years later when he had retired, I visited a very ill Mr Bass at his home in Newland Park. He told me he rather regretted leaving Hymers and wondered if he had made a mistake in taking on CLS. I reminded him we are only ever custodians and he had changed Hymers for the better and for ever. He seemed pleased with that.

I was always one of those who thought co-education was good for Hymers. It was the civilising influence the place needed. I had been educated at a co-educational school and attended a Music College where it did not occur to anyone that the achievements of both sexes were not equally important.

Hymers Music Staff

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