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News > 35 Years of Co-education > Co-Education Memories from Junior School Headmaster, Mr Bingham

Co-Education Memories from Junior School Headmaster, Mr Bingham

Peter Bingham took up the post of Head of the Junior School in 1984 and successfully oversaw the introduction of girls in 1989

The Start of Co-education at Hymers College Junior School

During the 1980s there were always about 6 or more junior boys who failed the senior school entrance exam, but it was necessary to fill the school to pay the bills. This was clearly not a satisfactory or even moral way to run a school. The school had three options: it could maintain standards by reducing its size; it could lower its standard of entry or it could offer education to the other half of the world.

Bryan Bass and the governors, many of whom were very reluctant, decided that to maintain high academic standards, the school should become co-educational. The Junior School already had several ladies on the staff, including the deputy head, Jennie Thomas. We recruited an excellent Head of Girls’ Sports, improved changing and toilet arrangements, and went ahead.

We used to take in two classes at age 8 and an extra class at age 9. As we went co-ed, we moved to three smaller mixed classes at age 8 and took in a new class of 9-year-olds, of whom 18 were girls. By mixing the three classes in that year, we were at once fully co-ed in the two lower years with only the top year remaining boys only.

It was almost necessary to protect the boys from the girls, because at that age, many girls were larger, stronger, and more mature. The transition went incredibly smoothly. We were already tending to use Christian names for the boys in the Junior School, so that was not a problem. The girls were into everything: they all played musical instruments (all but about half a dozen boys already did); they all seemed to be keen on sport; they were all keen to be thoroughly involved in everything.

I had wondered how to mark this momentous change in the first assembly of the autumn term. Fortunately, it dawned on me that all our new pupils came from mixed schools. This was no novelty for them. The boys already in the school had experienced mixed schools before coming to us, so there was no point in saying anything!

Two heads of other schools that had made the same transition came and told us that there would be no problem. I think we proved them right. Hymers hosted the first athletics meeting for girls in the North East HMC (the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference) schools and we won all age groups.

Many schools crept into co-education with just a few girls. We embraced it wholeheartedly and were quickly 50-50. Sadly, this was not maintained and things settled down at roughly 3 boys to 2 girls. It was important to us to maintain the musical, artistic, and dramatic interests of the boys in the face of female competition. Art and drama seemed to present no problem but I was delighted when the children voted with their feet and it became understood that “the choir” meant the whole school. However, we established two single-sex chamber choirs singing more elaborate part songs.

In the dim past of the 1980s, it was accepted that girls played netball and hockey while boys played football and cricket. Nowadays I expect they all play rugby together!

Peter Bingham, Junior School Head 1984-1995

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