One of North Yorkshire’s best known independent schools is next month (November) holding a special celebration to mark 30 years of co-education.
In September 1982, 105 years of tradition ended when Ashville College – a boys only day and boarding school in Harrogate – opened its doors to girls for the first time.
The 30th anniversary is being celebrated with a reception and lunch in the school’s Memorial Hall, which is being attended by former pupils and staff, governors and current teachers, on Saturday, November 17.
Initially, there were just 34 girls out of a total number of 412 pupils. However, in a short period of time, the gap narrowed and now stands at 42 per cent of all students being girls.
For the first four years, girls were only admitted as day pupils. In 1986 that too changed with the opening of a girl’s boarding house, Norfolk House, named after David Norfolk, the Headmaster who introduced co-education.
Helen Prince, (then Helen Grayson), one of the first cohort of girls at Ashville – and the first female president of the old pupils association – said: “My brother went to Ashville but I never thought I’d be able to go too, and I was delighted when they decided to admit girls.
“It was a bit of a voyage of adventure at first, with staff and prefects wondering how to relate to the alien presence of girls. We had mixed facilities too – there were so few of us that we had our own common room, a luxury preserved formerly for sixth form boys.
“On the flip side, the girls’ changing room was a portable building near the sports centre, and I remember having to run through the snow dressed in swimming costume, shoes and a towel.
“By the time I left, Ashville was fully co-ed and it felt like it had always been that way. I loved my time there and am so glad they made the decision in time for me to be an Ashvillian.”
Carol Tinker, who was appointed to Ashville in Sept ember 1982 as Head of Economics and Business Studies with responsibility for girls games at Ashville, at the age of 22.
She said: “It was a very exciting time and we were made to feel special. However, I was petrified that first morning being fresh out of University and in what had been a very traditionally male environment.
“Whilst there was some antipathy from older pupils and staff to start with but this didn’t last long. I loved every minute of my time at Ashville and was sorry to leave.”
Ashville College’s Head of Biology, Peter Forster, said: “Having been an all boys, primarily boarding school, for over one hundred years, the introduction of girls into the college in 1982 came, not surprisingly, as a shock to the system for both students and staff.
“The transition to coeducation, however, went surprisingly smoothly. There is no doubt the girls have made a valuable contribution over the years in creating a less masculine, and a more calm and healthier environment in which to teach and learn.”
Ashville College Headmaster Mark Lauder said: “Becoming co-educational was probably the most important – and if not the bravest – decision ever taken by the school.
“It was watched closely by a host of single-sex schools throughout the region, and many subsequently followed suit.
“For more than a century Ashville had a very proud tradition of being a boys’ boarding and day school. When school plays required cast members of the opposite sex, these invariably came from Harrogate Ladies College or Queen Ethelburga’s.”
Mr Lauder added: “From 1982 everything changed, and I’m delighted to say they changed for the better. Girls have made a massive contribution to the school.
“What was regarded by some as a controversial decision at the time has helped shape Ashville into the successful fully co-educational school it is today.”
Further details about the lunch are available from the Ashvillian Society website at www.ashvillian-society.org
Founded in 1877, Ashville College is a leading independent day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 4-18 years. It is located in the North Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate, and consists of three schools, Pre-Prep, Junior and Senior. Ashville College is a member of HMC, IAPS and part of the Methodist Independent Schools Group.
Picture caption: Three Decades of Co-Educational Success! Ashville College Headmaster Mark Lauder and former teacher Carol Tinker (second right) with (from left) first Ashville girl pupils Kate Considine, Sherry Wright and Helen Prince.