With the rapid expansion of Council housing during the inter-war years, a commensurate school building programme was set in motion in Birmingham. In South Birmingham, the children of the sprawling Allens Cross estate in Northfield were to be accommodated by schools at Trescott Road and Tinkers Farm Road, the latter of which is the subject of this article. Opening in termporary buildings in 1930 the school, at that time comprising of both primary and secondary departments, operated under the name of Tinkers Farm Road Council School until 1945 when there was a separation of the primary and boys and girls secondary departments into Tinkers Farm County Primary School, Tinkers Farm Boys’ County Modern School and Tinkers Farm Girls’ County Modern School, respectively.
Moving into permanent accommodation from a series of temporary ‘huts’ between 1932-1937 the school operated as 3 distinct units until 1957 when the primary element was disbanded and the school became a secondary school only, operating with the girls school on the first floor and boys school on the lower floor, housing circa 500 pupils in each department. As is, and was, the case with educational policy, many initiatives came and went and along with them a number of name changes until in 1969 Tinkers Farm County Modern School became Northfield Comprehensive School.
Growing up, as I did, in 1970s Northfield I remember the school having a woeful reputation and it certainly wasn’t one that appeared as the first choice selection for many parents when deciding where their children would go for secondary education. In fact I seem to recall Bournville School was the ‘Holy Grail’ at the time and following my early years’ schooling at Trescott Road Junior and Infants’ School my family moved to West Heath and I’d attended Cofton Promary School from 8 – 11 years and, living as we did, on the number 27 bus route that went to Bournville my mother put me down for that school. Birmingham City Council’s Education Department, however, had other ideas and sent a confirmation letter informing us that I was to go to Northfield Comprehensive.
To further compound matters, due to a drop in child numbers following the post-war baby boom, the Council were looking to close a number of schools and consolidate numbers in larger secondary schools in the City. Among those rumoured as earmarked for closure was Northfield Comprehensive which, on further investigation, we found was set to close in 1986 which was to be the year I finished my schooling and hence I was to be among the last group of pupils to traverse the five years of education on offer at the school.
Unfortunately for me, no one from Cofton Primary School was going to Northfield Comprehensive and so I turned up on my first morning – in my bottle green jumper with fetching red and green diagonally striped tie – not expecting to know anyone and somewhat daunted by the ‘horror stories’ that abounded in the area about the school and its pupils. As I walked up Kelby Close to the school gates I thought the school had a somewhat dilapidated and depressing air to it and its appearance, from that entrance, was dominated by the two halls on the lower and upper floors dead ahead, with the ‘outstretched arms’ of the gym blocks to the left and right with the science and art blocks underneath them, respectively.
Immediately on entering the gates there was a small car park surrounded by a playground and to the right there was a driveway through to the ‘lower school’ playground, and beyond that the craft block, and to the left a driveway to the upper school playground and beyond that the upper school and 6th form block. The school seemed vast to me and I think, at that time, there were c950 pupils in attendance. Fortunately, after a few minutes psyching myself up to enter the playground I ventured inside and was met by many ex Trescott Road School pupils who remembered me from there a few years previously which eased my trauma somewhat!
Over the years my memory has no doubt faded as to some of the characters concerned with the school, but as best as I can recall, and for those interested, the staff as I remember them were as follows:
Mr Evanson – Head
Mr Broomfield – Head (Lower School)
Mr Meyrick – Head (Upper School)
Miss Plimley – Science
Mr Nelson – Science
Mr Harding – English
Mr Hardy – Science
Mr Troman – Science
Mr Hazard – Geography
Mr Fleming – History
Mr Bartlam – Geography
Miss Alcock – French/German
Mr Slater – English
Mr Berry – English
Mr Hill – General Studies
Mrs Marshall – General Studies
Mr Barua – Maths
Mr MacDonald – Maths
Miss Patterson – Maths
Mrs Meachum – Maths
Mr Cotterill – PE
Mr Colvin – PE
Mr Charlton – Woodwork/Technical Drawing
Mr Murch – Metalwork
Mr Zielinski – Metalwork
Mr Malpass – Art
Miss Smith – Art
Mr Turner – Commerce
Mr Sturman – Can’t recall subject
Mr James – Music/RE
Mrs Beddows – Can’t recall subject
Mrs Harris – PE
Whilst there were some great staff among the above list – Dougie Fleming, Martin Berry and Bob Hill I particularly remember fondly – I have to confess that I wasn’t overly enamoured with my time at Northfield Comprehensive. Looking back, one of the fundamental problems was that the school was being ‘wound down’ to closure and so any teacher with a modicum of ability and career aspiration was clamouring to escape to pastures new . . . and many did so during my first three years at the school. The result was that what we were left with a selection of supply teachers, teachers coasting to retirement and, I would posit, some who were finding it ‘testing’ to be placed elsewhere. We certainly felt that we were getting less than a fair crack of the whip in terms of teaching quality and certainly a lack of consistence in approach as teachers were abandoning the sinking ship at an alarming rate.
Whilst some of the teaches who came in towards the end were great – John Bradney, English teacher and RSA thespian extraordinaire – some were well below par. Some of the teachers who arrived during my time at the school as I recall were:
Mrs Schneider – Head
Mr Mohammed – RE
Mr Kendall – PE
Miss Evans – PE/Maths (an immensely popular teacher with all the male pupils and staff as I recall)
Mr Oborski – Can’t recall the subject
Miss Knowles – Maths
In my final year at the school there had been no backfilling of pupils for a couple of years and we were the only year left on the site. Not only had the educational quality crumbled but so had the fabric of the school itself with cracks running from floor to roof on the outer wall of the art block/boys gym and a general air of disrepair abounded. Even careers guidance which should have been a rather important part of the final year was reduced to finding everyone Youth Training Schemes (YTS) to go on after we’d taken our clutch of CSEs (Certificates of Substandard Education as we’d dubbed them) . . . don’t ever recall the notion of progression to university being mentioned!
And thus, in 1986 we all left (well, I actually finished a month early following an ‘alleged’ incident with Brasso, a cheese sandwich and a technical drawing teacher) and the school closed with the buildings being retained for several years as a training centre for various youth schemes and, in the case of the old upper school, a Neighbourhood Office until demolition. The school site is now occupied by a housing association development under the moniker ‘Scholars Green’, a name which still makes me chuckle.
I could run-off enough anecdotes and reflections to fill a website in its own right about Northfield Comprehensive but if anyone else can add any names or info to the above I’d be very interested to hear from you.