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News > 35 Years of Co-education > Co-Education Memories from Mrs Chorlton

Co-Education Memories from Mrs Chorlton

To many, she was the 'Mum' of the school; Senior Mistress and English Teacher, Mary Chorlton taught at Hymers College for 19 years

When Mrs Chorlton first came to Hymers College for her job interview in 1987, she was interviewed by an all-male panel, including the then Headmaster, Mr Bass (1983-90) and Deputy Headmaster, Mr Morris (1980-2006).  Having been offered the job, she started when there were only a handful of female teachers in the Junior and Senior School. 

At that time, she had never taught at an all-boys school, having previously worked at St Mary’s College and Rise Hall.  However, it wasn’t long before she had a good rapport with them, with Year 11 boys joking that she always said in class ‘Now seriously, boys!’, to which they would respond with ‘Now seriously, Mrs Chorlton!’

As discussions turned to co-education at Hymers College, there was a considerable amount of opposition from Old Hymerians.  During her first year, Mrs Chorlton was invited to the OHA Dinner.  As Hymers was an all-boys school, these dinners didn’t usually have females at the event and word soon got around that Mrs Chorlton was attending.  As a result, she withdrew, which caused even more of a stir, but helped to reiterate the point that females should be invited.

There was also opposition from the Sports Department, who had valid concerns about the number of boys at the school being reduced, resulting in an impact on the quality and standard of the boys’ major games.  This view was soon changed when the girls arrived, as in fact the quality of the boys’ sport improved and the girls proved to be just as successful in their games.

During the year run-up to the school opening its doors to girls, Mr Bass and Mrs Chorlton visited a large number of schools that had recently changed to co-education, in order to get new ideas and prepare for the changes to come.

They also ran a workshop for the staff to prepare for the presence of girls and more female teachers at the school.  At this time the Senior Common Room had been relocated to a new room, along with its sign ‘Masters’ Common Room’.  Mrs Chorlton pointed this out, that Masters were not the only inhabitants of the Common Room.  Later that day, Mr Bass had found a screwdriver, the plaque was removed and never seen again.

In the Senior School, students were normally referred to be their surnames, something Mrs Chorlton pointed out she wouldn’t do, to either a boy or a girl.  Many teachers, especially the sports teachers, eventually stopped this practice, as it wouldn’t have been right for them to call the girls by their surnames as well.

The change to co-education went smoothly, although they had to work hard to change some of the attitudes, but over time, opinions did change.  Standards at the school went up and there was the realisation that girls were not there as a distraction.

The main mistake that was made related to the girls’ changing rooms.  Communal showers were installed which lacked privacy, with the expectation that girls would jump in the showers in the same way the boys did.  Shower curtains were added at the request of Mrs Chorlton but they were often avoided by the girls.  Whilst there were mistakes made along the way with the approach towards the girls, it was, however, never in malice, but more thoughtlessness, forgetting the girls were different from the boys.

When the school became co-educational, Mrs Chorlton was given the additional title of Senior Mistress, as was common at the time, and was to be in charge of the girls’ welfare.  It was only after her retirement in 2006, that her replacement, Christine Gravelle (2006-13), was given a more up-to-date title of Deputy Head.

Mrs Chorlton became the first female, and for a long time, the only female, on the Senior Management Team.  She also became the first female to lead a school assembly.  As she walked back into Mr Morris’ room in her black gown, she remarked to him that a ‘minor miracle had occurred, to which none of the Headmasters’ portraits (hung in the Main Hall) had fallen off the wall.’

During her time at the school, she also introduced PSE (Personal Social Education) lessons with Mr Summers (1989-2022), which included sex education, with the girls taught by Mrs Chorlton and the boys, Mr Summers.

Over the years, there have been many changes at Hymers College and one in the early days was the introduction of a sick bay when the school admitted girls.

There wasn’t a Sick Bay when I first started! Perhaps boys weren’t supposed to feel ill!

We had a call one day to say that a student had had an accident, so could we come over to the Junior School. When we arrived he was sitting alone and ashen faced on a chair surrounded by traffic cones. He had broken his collar bone and there was no Sick Bay so the traffic cones were there to keep the other boys away from him!  I like to think that things would have improved even without the advent of girls!

Working at Hymers was a happy experience for Mrs Chorlton, with strong friendships formed with teachers and students.

 I am not and never have been a raging feminist but, in those early days, it was important to ensure that the female voice was heard. I should also say that the male staff and pupils made the women and girls welcome and the success of co-education was thanks to everyone.

I remember saying in my final assembly: I feel proud and privileged to have been the first and, indeed, the only Senior Mistress of Hymers and to have been so closely involved in all the changes. That is still how I feel.

Mrs Chorlton, OH Staff 1987-2006, Senior Mistress and English Teacher

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