In the Beginning …
In the beginning, there was the land. Kings Norton in the early 1950s was still largely rural in character. Apart from the industrial development along the the south of the railway line just as it ran into Cotteridge, and some pre-war ribbon development near the Green, it was an area of spacious family residences on quiet, tree lined roads; of allotments, gardens, nurseries, and, scattered among the low hills and fields, large houses dating from at least the previous century and set in their own grounds, such as Wychall House, Burford House, Staple Lodge, Highcroft, Frankley Lodge, and Hawkesley Hall. And there were farms. Bank Top Farm, (standing today still amongst the house in Middlemore Road), Staplehall Farm, Ivy House Farm, Grange Farm, Primrose Hill Farm, and Wychall Farm.
In 1955, someone standing on Middleton Hall Road and looking south across the shallow valley of the Rea River, where the school now stands, would have seen a slope of nurseries, allotments, and large gardens falling sharply to the embankment of the LMR’s Bristol to Birmingham railway. Beyond was Wychall Reservoir with its two boathouses and its acres of marsh and reeds, which fed a millrace and supplied water to the Birmingham to Gloucester Canal. Then came a slight rise, on which the fields and buildings of Wychall Farm were situated. Beyond that was the Kings Norton Golf Club, with its fairways stretching up the far slope, and out of sight over the summit.
Apart from the sound of trains slowing as they passed Kings Norton junction, and the occasional misdirected Luftwaffe bomb during the Second World War (Cotteridge was mentioned in the Luftwaffe briefings on Longbridge, and a house on Grange Hill Road had been wrecked in 1943) it must have been a quiet spot it was approached only by the narrow and frequently flooded Pope’s Lane running down from Middleton Hall Road under the railway and by the rural, meandering Wychall Lane; both lanes ended when they met at the south western corner of the farm, giving way to footpaths and fields. The nearest neighbour was the Kings Norton Golf Clubhouse.
The farm was tenanted by a John Cashmore and the land was owned by a prominent family with strong local links, the Grant Ferrises, who were devoutly Catholic. The farmhouse building itself stood alongside Pope’s Lane, roughly where the school canteen is now, and must have dated back to medieval times because it had an ancient moat (which was later to give trouble by flooding the boiler room). There is a local legend that the farm had recusant associations, and it might be significant that the lane bordering the farm was known as Pope’s Lane, just as near Kings Norton Green, there is Masshouse Lane, associated with a building that dated at least to the Sixteenth Century, and also suggesting a post-Reformation Catholic connection. However there is no current confirmation of this.
The story of the school by Pete Roberts
Pete Roberts was born in South Wales and educated at Canton High School and University College, Cardiff, where he was awarded the Dr. A. G. Little Prize for History. The university still owes him ten shillings. He was appointed to the STAGS History department by Paul Olsen, Geoff Wheaton, and Pete Dalton, at Easter, 1970, and like so many non-Catholics, was welcomed warmly into the school community. He went on to become head of History, head of the Humanities Faculty, and the head of the Upper Sixth before taking early retirement, to sighs of relief all round, in 1997.
He enjoys playing music, especially acoustic guitar, ranging from blues and rock to traditional Irish music; and he’s been a guitar tutor for the local branch of Comhaltas, the traditional Irish Music Society. He’s also written for stage and television, has had 11 plays broadcast on Radio 4, and has been writing Derby Playhouse’s community play for 2001. H continues to work part time with A level students at Aquinas and occasionally attempts to play five-a-side football with the staff. In the 1996 Team Awards he was named ‘Best Five-a-side Welsh Footballer’. There were no other Welsh footballers in the team.
Published in 2000
Fifty Years – Looking back and looking forward
The world in 2013 is dramatically different from the one that existed in September 1963 when St Thomas Aquinas first opened its doors to 90 boys in short trousers. As they began their secondary education a young American president had yet to be assassinated; the idea of a man landing on the moon was fantasy; and the fame of a new pop group from Liverpool called The Beatles had yet to reach Birmingham.
Fifty years ago the world was a very different place but any of those 90 boys who walked down the front drive of their new school back in 1963 would instantly recognise the same façade in front of them in 2013. Perhaps a little less sprightly than 50 years before, they would note the new entrance and signage but fundamentally little would be different at first sight from the building that became as familiar to them as they began their secondary education way back in 1963.
This year in our Golden Jubilee we hope that lots of our former students will experience that familiar feeling as they visit their old school, especially on our Open Day on Saturday 6th July. It will be a great occasion to catch up with old friends, to reminisce and to recall events long forgotten. And when they do many will mention three men synonymous with St Thomas Aquinas School who were here when it all began with those 90 boys.
As I write this piece in my office I look at the picture on the wall, as I have done most days for the past 20 years, showing the Foundation Year 1963-64. It shows 90 boys with 5 teachers in the middle led by Paul Olsen, the first head teacher (headmaster in those days!). Over the next 11 years and long beyond that “Olly” became a legend in the school that he founded. And beside him sat a young English teacher, John Bartlett who succeeded Paul Olsen as Head in 1974 and led the school until his retirement in 1993. To this day John lives within walking distance of the school and is still in regular touch with numerous former colleagues and students.
And a third teacher who everyone will recall with the greatest fondness was also there on that opening day. Barely distinguishable from the boys, so youthful was the new PE teacher but unmistakeable with his wide grin, sat Pat Manion who sadly died long before his time in 2004. Many tales will be told this year of the exploits of Pat who served the school so well for so long.
So much has changed in the past 50 years and yet traditions and values established from the early days are still the hallmark of St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School today. The 90 boys have grown to 1240 boys (and girls); 6 teachers have been succeeded by 80 in a total staff of 150. And yet the site (thought too small for a new school in 1963) is unchanged from 50 years ago.
One other thing that has never changed in all the years is the immense pride we have in the countless achievements of Tommy’s students. Just as that first group of 90 went on to make their mark in the world so too has every year group that succeeded them right up to the present day.
In 1993 when I succeeded John Bartlett I was very conscious of the great legacy that he left me and the awesome responsibility of ensuring that school continued to go from strength to strength. Twenty years later, as I prepare to pass the baton to my successor, I know that they too will inherit a great school. All that is best in Catholic education is exemplified in St Thomas Aquinas School. I have no doubt that will be the case over the next 50 years too.
St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School (STACS) became an Academy on 1st April 2015 as part of the Lumen Christi Multi-Academy Company (MAC).
Throughout 2017-2018 senior staff visited some of the best schools in the country to develop a new direction for the school. As a result of those visits and subsequent planning, STACS has pursued a distinct approach to school improvement and developed a vision around becoming a Knowledge-rich school.
Student behaviour has significantly improved and the impact on learning has been significant. We introduced Line Up every morning and afternoon for over 1100 students. The students now walk into school in silence and they are more ready to begin their lessons as a result. We radically changed our Behaviour Policy and introduced same night centralised detentions. Any issues are immediately dealt with and the next day is a fresh start. Black trainers are a thing of the past. We significantly raised uniform expectations and insisted on shoes. Standards are now exceptionally high.
At the same time, our pastoral systems were re-structured. We changed from vertical tutoring to horizontal tutoring and assigned Learning Mentors (non-teaching staff) to each year group. This was another highly significant change but the process was effectively managed and therefore well received by students, parents and staff. This has enabled us to respond to any hint of potential underachievement with the required rigour.
We have increasingly focused on what is being taught. All faculties redesigned their curriculum; core knowledge has been defined, learning sequenced and pedagogical approaches that commit key content to long term memory systematically encouraged.
We are now looking at other aspects of the school including our Aquinas Canon and Aquinas Experience. I would urge you to browse our current website to find out more.
St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School is getting better and better all the time. This next part of the school’s history is only just getting started. We are determined to build something truly great!
May God continue to bless this school for the next 60 years!