On 11th November 1874 the advertisement on the left appeared in the "Coleraine Chronicle". So began the official history of Coleraine High School, the second oldest girls’ school in Northern Ireland.
Education for the girls in Coleraine predates the founding of the 1874 school and it may be that the school known as Miss Thompson’s Boarding School, of the Diamond, Coleraine is a forerunner of the school, which was run by the Misses long. In the achievements of Coleraine High School are merit cards presented to a pupil at Miss Thompson’s school in 1816.
Mrs. Long who founded the school in Alexandra Terrace, Railway Road, in which her daughters were teachers, was the widow of Rev. Andrew Long of Monreagh Presbyterian Church, Co. Donegal. She called her school “Gordonville School” in honour of her mother whose maiden name was Gordon and, from its earliest days, it took both boarding and day pupils. The first pupil at Gordonville School was a girl called Milligan whose first name, unfortunately, is unknown. Her younger sister, Matilda, became a pupil in 1875 at the tender age of three! Mrs. Long first moved her school to Waterford Terrace in Lodge Road and then, in 1880, to the new premises on the other side of the Lodge road which formed the main teaching block until 1966 and continued to be the boarding Department until the mid 1980s. This site has since been redeveloped for private housing but retains the old name “Gordonville”.
The Misses Long married and left the area and, in 1894, Mrs Long retired and sold her school to the Misses Irwin. These ladies appear to have had a great interest in music and the local press records many concerts which they organised in the 1890’s including at least one on behalf of ‘ Culraithian’ , in a society which raised funds for Coleraine Academical Institution , the local school for boys!
Academically, the school was progressing, and in 1895 the ‘Coleraine Chronicle’ offered its congratulations to the Misses Irwin in the schools examination results. In that year , for example, Mary B. Mackey gained entrance to the Royal University of Ireland and entrances to Queen’s College, Belfast, are mentioned in subsequent years. Pupils of “ Gordonville Ladies’ School” were amongst the first to be granted degrees from Queen’s on the same basis as men when the rules of the college were changed in 1879.
In 1898 a local, Margaret E. Tannahill, gained an Arts degree from the Royal University of Ireland and in 1902, she brought Brynderwyn School, Coleraine, from Miss Warnock. In 1903 the same Miss Tannahill became Headmistress of Gordonville Ladies’ School, and it would appear that she united the two schools on the Gordonville site. By that time the school had 9 staff and about 10 pupils of whom five were boys in the “Children’s School”.
The High School
Old HouseIn 1908 the school was sold to Miss Maude A. Scott who came from Strand House, Londonderry. She renamed the school “The High School”. The name “Gordonville” almost disappeared from memory until the second Boarding house was given its name in 1966. Interestingly, however, before the demolition of “Gordonville” in the mid 1980’s an old brass plaque bearing the inscription “The High School” was removed from the railings outside the buildings and, on the reverse was etched “Gordonville Ladies’ School”!
Miss Scott owner of the school until 1923 when a Board of Governors was appointed , and she continued as Headmistress until her retirement in 1973. One of the features of the school was that girls were taught science in the Technical College which, at that time, was sited on Lodge road. A fair number of pupils gained degrees in science, even those early years, and the number gaining arts and medical degrees was also creditable.
The girls played their part in the “war effort” between 1914 and 1918. They knitted socks for and sent food parcels to the prisoners of war, and concerts were held to raise funds. Each Saturday in the summer each pupil walked to Portstewart.
From the 1920s onwards the school began to take on a more “modern” appearance. School uniform became compulsory- the colours and blazers of the school uniform remaining unchanged to the present day.
As early as 1929 the Board or Governors discussed plans for building a completely new school on a different site, but, until that could be done, temporary premises were built behind the existing school. This “New Wing” costing £3,369 was opened on 1st December, 1930 and was used until the closure of the Preparatory Department in 1977.
IN 1939 Miss Scott retired. Feminists of today may not be impressed with her favourite “text” – “ to be a happy wife and mother is a woman’s highest function; to be useful, successful, contented, though unmarried, an uncommonly good second”.
The War Years
Miss Scott’s successor was Dr Elsie Johnston, who was headmistress from 1937 to 1959.
The Second World War left its mark on the school with numbers of pupils increasing as evacuees came from London, Manchester and Belfast. The tennis courts were dug up and vegetables were planted to help the war effort; the old kitchen in the basement was converted into an air-raid shelter and, under the tuition of Mr. May, some girls were taught the skills of marksmanship. In 1943 the first Northern Ireland Training for the Girls’ Training Corps was formed in Coleraine High School and the Technical College. Dr. Johnston was the Commandant, and the Adjutant was Winfred Greeves, later the headmistress of Glenlola Collegiate School.
After the war the school continued to grow and among other additions to accommodation, a new laboratory was equipped. In 1951 the school became a Voluntary School under the terms of the 1947 Act, a move reluctantly accepted by the Governors. In 1953 “Spring Gardens”, a private residence with considerable grounds on the Lodge Road was purchased with the intention of developing it as the site for the new school buildings. Work on an Assembly Hall and canteen began in 1959, just prior to the retirement of Dr.Johnston and to the school becoming a County Grammar School, under the Co. Londonderry Education Committee. The last act of the old Board of Governors was to appoint Dr. Johnston’s successor, Miss M.W. Lillie. By that time there were 460 pupils in what was now called Coleraine High School. By the autumn of 1966 a complete new building on the Spring Gardens site was ready for occupation. For a time, two rooms in that building were used as offices for the Vice Chancellor of the New University of Ulster. In these years curriculum changes were important as the needs of the modern women were met, and numbers of pupils continued to increase. Conditions were soon again overcrowded and an extension was completed in early 1972. A new larger Assembly hall was completed in time for the Centenary celebrations in 1975, and two houses adjacent to the school have become a Sixth Form Centre and further extension to the Boarding Department. The biggest change in these years was the large numbers staying to take “A” levels, many of whom proceeded to third level education. Miss. Lillie retired in December 1973, and was succeeded by Miss E.J. Duffin the seventh headmistress in 100 years. During the Centenary celebrations in the school year 1974-1975, Dr. Johnston and Miss. Lillie were among the guests and made valuable contributions to the proceedings. Miss Duffin, who was headmistress from 1974 until 1987, led the school into the computer and technology age without losing sight of the things in which Coleraine High School was well known. Achievements in the academic world, in the arts and in sport continued as they have done under the eighth headmistress, Mrs. D. Hutchieson. With almost 120 years’ experience, this is a school were “parents who are anxious to procure a thorough education for their children will find advantages rarely to be met with”!
The School Today
Pleasantly located on a 28 acre site adjacent to the town, this controlled Grammar School provides a bright, modern environment for nearly 800 girls. Sadly, the Boarding School was closed in June 1997 due to partly to the decrease in demand for boarding, but mainly to the fact that the number of places afforded to local pupils was increased. The Boarding House known as Spring Gardens was a very welcome to the schools other accommodation.
In addition to up-to-date facilities including separate Information Technology and Technology suites, a Careers suite, Sixth Form Centre, recently refurbished Science laboratories and other special teaching rooms, there are hockey pitches, tennis courts and an athletics track. Considerable use is also made of the nearby Leisure Centre with its heated swimming pool, squash courts sports hall and fitness suites.
While aiming to encourage pupils to acquire knowledge and skills, the ethos of the school developed over the years has focused on promoting respect for oneself and for others. High standards are expected, not just in academic performance but in all aspects of discipline. Good manners and good behaviour are still very much in the order of the day.
The academic record of the school is fairly impressive. Last year saw 99% of girls achieving grades A*- C in five or more subjects at G.C.S.E, while at ‘A’ level 90% had three or more subjects at A/C (82%). These achievements placed Coleraine High School 24th in the U.K and the top state school in Northern Ireland in the Sunday Times listing of high performing schools.
The staying-on rate after G.C.S.E is high and the majority of girls go to Universities or Colleges of Higher Education on completion of their Sixth Form studies. A recent trend has been the increasing number following science, engineering and business/language courses. Though all schools are required to follow the requirements of Common Curriculum, Coleraine High School tries very hard to facilitate the development of the individual’s strengths, abilities and interests while maintaining breadth, balance and relevance in curricular provision.
While a conformity to the school motto ‘ Virtue et Labore’ ( by strength of character and diligence) is expected, another aspect which is given much attention is the happiness or the well-being of individuals. It is reasonable to assume that if people are unhappy then they will not be capable of their best performance. If, on the other hand, they feel that they are apart of a caring environment then the quality of their work will be higher. The Environmental Society pays particular attention to the School’s surroundings and they, together with the hard working caretakers and ground maintenance staff, have been responsible for winning the Best Kept Large School award on no less than six occasions.
The affects of ‘all work and no play’ are reduced by the provision of a vast range of extra-curricular activities. In addition to drama, public speaking, debating, Scripture Union, Scientific Society, Modern Language Society, duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, Pony Club and the School’s own Guide Company, there is a full range of sporting activities, These include hockey, badminton, harriers, athletics, tennis and golf.
Music features strongly and as well as junior and senior choirs there is a fine School orchestra. Peripatetic tuition I provided by the North-Eastern and Library Board in woodwind and strings and private tuition is also available. Each year a high quality public production allows young musicians, dancers and actresses to display their talents and work as a team while just as much is learned by those who are responsible for make-up, props. or costumes.
Many charities benefit financially from activities organised by pupils. They select the groups they wish to support and find out more about the organisations and their work. Last year over £12,000 was raised. It is recognised however, that while learning to give and share is very important, so too is the need to learn, to understand and respect the views and cultures of others. Education for Mutual Understanding plays a significant part in the life of the School for, in addition to frequent organised meetings with young people from seven other secondary schools in our area, a close link has been developed over the past thirteen years which a similar school to Dublin. Letter writing and exchange visits have helped to highlight the fact that what they have in common features more strongly than there differences.
A widening of horizons is continually being encouraged especially with the growing significance of the European dimension. Coleraine High School is linked with schools in La Roche sur Yon in France and Ulm in Germany. Visitors from these different countries having stayed with families in the area while sharing in the Schools activities. Pupils from Coleraine High School have also made frequent visits to the continent. The School is also involved in a Young Enterprise Scheme. This type of programme involves setting up a company, appointing a Chairman, Directors and managers, issuing shares, holding properly constituted meetings and so on. The aim is for the company to identify a market for the product, make the product and then sell it with a view of making profit for its shareholders, in this case, the pupils! The Young Enterprise Scheme involves drawing on the expertise of ‘Advisors’ from business and industry. Similar contributions are welcomed by the Careers and Guidance Departments for insight into Industry days and for talks about specific areas of employment. Many companies also provide opportunities for work experience. Such involvement by members of our local community is highly valued and much appreciated.
Staying in touch after leaving school is not a problem as the Old Girls’ Association provides opportunities for all former pupils to come together for various social occasions. As well as a Coleraine branch, there is also a very well supported Belfast branch of the Association. Together with the Friends of Coleraine High School (Parents’ Association), considerable financial assistance is given to the School as a result of numerous fund-raising activities.
It is frequently said that nothing is more constant than change and change continues to be very significant in our education system. While, however, it is recognised that so change is always necessary, the School has endeavoured not to allow its high standards to be eroded. Those standards, values and attitudes are as valid now as they have been, perhaps even more so, as our young people look to society for guidance and example, they are so frequently disappointed by what they see. Coleraine High School endeavours to give its pupils a firm foundation based on the ability to recognise the difference between right and wrong, to recognise what is true and good, while at the same time, giving them skills and training that will enable them to cope confidently and successfully no matter where they may go in the world.