School History

an old photo of the KEHS school

King Edward VI High School for Girls, Birmingham has rich history dating back over 140 years.

1392-1883: King Edward & the Creation of KEHS

King Edward VI High School for Girls has roots that date back over 600 years to the Gild of the Holy Cross which, due to the dissolution of the monasteries formed a school for the youth of Birmingham in 1552.

The creation of this school, specifically for secondary education of young girls was the culmination of decades of slow, but continual, social and political progress in the Victorian era. This began in 1864 when the new liberal-controlled town council stepped in to look at the Foundation Schools. They recommended that they adapt their current arrangements to create a boys' high school, a boys' middle school and an upper school for girls. This was eventually put into practice in 1881 and the Charity Commission insisted that the high school for girls take priority, as it would allow girls to attend university. The High School for Girls opened 18th September 1883 in the former assembly hall of the Boys School in New Street. It wasn’t an ideal start, but girls education in Birmingham was on the rise!

1883-1910: Miss Creak

The newly created King Edward VI High School for Girls took its place in the new ladder of education, encouraging students to go from elementary school through grammar school and high school to university.

The first headmistress of KEHS was Miss Creak, who was chosen from over 30 applicants for her impressive academic record and bold ideas.

Miss Creak believed that women's education should do two things: prepare them to be wives and mothers; allow them to develop to their highest intellectual potential. She also believed that the two were mutually beneficial, complementing one another through time. She believed in concentrating on all pupils, not the brightest few. Miss Creak emphasised the importance of self-discipline, imposing few rules upon her students. She valued a sense of duty, a love of work for its own sake, honour and independent effort. She embodied these traits herself and was also well known for her determination and spirit.

Her first appointments included Miss Davison and Miss Slater, women who shaped the school's scientific foundations and helped the school to become the best scientific establishment in the region. She also seconded specialist teachers from the School of Art and Mason's Science College, which enabled girls to take a London B.Sc. in Physiology or Practical Physics whilst still at school.

Sadly, her life was often disrupted by illness. In 1887, she missed the move to Congreave Street. Whilst the school was there new buildings were designed for the New Street site. The new building was erected by Sapcote and Sons at a cost of £24,242 plus extras for hot water and ventilation. The building was completed in 1896 by Miss Sidgwick, as Miss Creak was once again ill.

In the meantime, Miss Creak had hired Florence George as a cookery mistress. This was against the recommendation of the Governors, who had strictly warned against incorporating cookery in the curriculum. Miss George went on to author the school's first cookbook, the aptly named "King Edward's Cookery Book" and produce a second volume purely for vegetarian recipes.

The school used a disciplinary system of conduct marks. Serious violations of school procedure, such as running in the corridor, would result in a conduct mark being given. Minor offences, such as forgetting a book, would result in an order mark.

1900 saw the formation of some of the school's earliest clubs and societies, such as Debating and Literature. The early 20th century saw a number of school magazines produced; ‘After Many Days', ‘The KEGHS Chronicle' and ‘94' acted as precursors to ‘Phoenix' which began in 1910.

Miss Creak also presided as the first female Governor was elected. In 1909 Miss Margery Fry was the first woman to serve on the board and was later elected the first woman bailiff. Miss Fry worked too for the University of Birmingham, was governor of the Handsworth Pupil-Teacher Centre and was part of the Staffordshire County Education Committee.

Unfortunately, by this time Miss Creak and the Governors were not seeing eye to eye. It seems that Miss Creak was a victim of her time. Her views on education fell short of modern standards. Governors were concerned about her political views; she was vibrantly patriotic about the Boer War and fervently opposed to women's suffrage. By the end of that year, the school inspectors had recommended that the school was brought up to standard by a successor. Miss Creak handed in her resignation shortly afterwards.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances of her departure, Miss Creak remained in good contact with the school, returning when possible for major events.

Miss Creak has left a lasting legacy upon the school, her ideas shaped the underlying ethos. She was a thoughtful and committed academic with a true love of education. This dedication and passion for KEHS is celebrated every year by the Creak Memorial Prize, which is given to the pupil who "by their character and general worth has best served the school".

a picture of Miss Creak and the staff

1911-1925: Miss Major

Miss Major is remembered for her soft Irish voice, strength, charm and wit. Like Miss Creak, she studied at Cambridge and was a former head of a GPDST school, but she had more professional experience. Her aim was to conserve tradition whilst modernising the curriculum and updating teaching methods.

One of her first acts was to employ a PE mistress, Miss Nichols, who came to the school on the condition that a playing field be created. By 1911, hockey and netball teams were well established and in 1912 KEHS competed in its first House Swimming Gala. It was Miss Major and Miss Nichols who together created the four houses of KEHS:

Beaufort: with the portcullis, the symbol of Edward VI's great grandmother, Margaret.

Bordeaux: the title of Richard II in whose reign the Gild of the Holy Cross was founded.

Seymour: after Edward's mother Jane, whose emblem was the phoenix.

Tudor: after Edward's own house.

A collection of house trophies began and colours were introduced. One of these was the Fry Cup, anonymously donated in recognition of Margery Fry, the first female bailiff. Miss Major also introduced the school uniform, which was originally black pinafores and white shirts.

a picture of Miss Major

1925-1941: Miss Barrie

Miss Barrie served as headmistress from 1925 until 1941. She too was a Cambridge graduate, who approached her work with feminine common sense and affection. Her motto was "be supple in things immaterial".

Her reign saw a number of educational changes, including the creation of the new HE Certificate. She had a number of ideas about the future of education, some of which were echoed in the 1926 Hadlow report. In 1930, the 11+ exam was created.

Miss Barrie was responsible for hiring a new Celtic trio in the English Department: Miss MacDermott (a Scotswoman whose nickname became little Mac); Miss MacDonald (Sandy Mac, originally from Ireland); and Miss Treener (a true Cornishwoman who chronicled her time at KEHS in her autobiography ‘A Stranger to the Midlands').

Miss Barrie also appointed singer Denne Parker, whose musical talent inspired girls and improved the school's standard considerably. Drama continued to flourish, with productions of ‘The Tailor of Gloucester' and ‘The Siege of Ping'.

In 1928, KEHS became a branch of the Union of Girls' Schools for Social Service and adopted two nearby infant schools. Members helped the schools in a variety of ways, assisting with running play centres at Christmas.

It was also under Miss Barrie’s tenure that the school began its move from the centre of Birmingham out to Edgbaston Park Road where it remains to this day.

a picture of Miss Barrie

1941-1952: Dr Smith

Dr Mary Smith joined KEHS as headmistress from Sydenham High School. She was later named president of the Association of Headmistresses. Dr Smith too had a challenging reign, but she coped with the demands of the Second World War with assuredness and finesse. Phoenix was not published during these years, but handwritten submissions were displayed in the Art Room. The pupils themselves were evacuated to Cheltenham for a short period during the war for their own safety.

The girls once again involved themselves in the war effort, picking fruit at Bennett's farm amongst other pursuits. They frequently wrote letters to people on the front, even managing to make contact with a girl inmate of Bergen Belsen concentration camp in Lower Saxony after VE Day.

By 1947, only a handful of teachers from before the war remained and staffing became a serious issue. Dr Smith also faced problems with improvements to buildings and grounds, especially for games provision. Some progress was made during this time, including the establishment of the Parents' Association and the furnishing of the Senior Library. In 1948, a field was acquired from Winterbourne to create the new hockey pitches and netball courts. Sports provision also benefitted from the generosity of the Cadbury family, who offered the use of some of their facilities providing that they were cleaned as and when necessary.

a picture of Dr Smith

1953-1964: Miss Lloyd-Williams

In September 1953, Miss Lloyd-Williams came to KEHS from Roedean Public School where she had worked as a senior housemistress. This was a change from previous headmistresses, who had always held the role before.

Miss Lloyd-Williams' time as headmistress saw the school's musical and dramatic activities flourish. By the end of the 50s, the calendar was full of concerts, plays, musicals and dances. Though some of these activities were joint with KES, the girls were keen to work together more. Both Miss Lloyd-Williams and Canon Lunt disagreed, conceding only to the addition of a square dance should a suitable committee be formed.

In 1964, the school's indoor pool was opened. It was also the year in which Miss Lloyd-Williams retired. She was remembered for her undeniable courage and good humour.

a picture of Miss Lloyd-Williams

1964-1977: Miss Wilks

Miss Wilks came to KEHS from Hertfordshire and Essex High School, one of a group of schools well known for the freedom enjoyed by their heads. She too served as president of the association of Headmistresses and also served on the Royal Commission on Public Schools.

Miss Wilks had a clear vision for the future of KEHS. She wanted the school to remain neither elitist nor excessively selective. She wanted girls to be broadly educated. She believed in the constant pursuit of excellence. She believed that school should not be an end in itself, but a means of preparation for the world.

In 1968 Miss Wilks hired the first full-time male teacher, Mr Christ of the Physics Department, who was closely followed by Mr Line, Mr Twilley and Mr Wood. She also restructured the school, removing prefects and creating a more democratic system. The Sixth Form committee was introduced. In 1970, the Sixth Form were allowed to come out of uniform and the school council abolished prizes below the age of 16. Houses became increasingly less important.

Community Service became part of the curriculum, with some forms truly excelling. U4B of 1970-1971 held a production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ which raised funds for a local charity helping people with learning disabilities.

1975 saw the biggest change of all with the abolition of Direct Grant places. Miss Wilks managed this crisis with her usual calm commitment and smoothed the transition into the new assisted place scheme.

1977-1996: Miss Ena Evans

In 1977 the first of two consecutive Miss Evans became headmistress. She too faced the challenge of the phasing out of Direct Grant places, which she tackled with dry humour. She shared the view that community and responsibility should be at the core of the school, but was more liberal in other areas.

Miss Evans emphasised the importance of a full life, encouraging girls to be academic, professional and charitable. She encouraged girls to think about taking positions as magistrates and school governors in later life. She also started a programme of international links. To this day the school retains contact with schools in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

The school campus also changed dramatically under her leadership. In 1984, the Peter Bennett Centre was built and in 1989 the new Sports Hall.

Miss Evans retired in 1996, but remains an active member of our community and is often seen at Old Edwardian events.

a picture of Miss Ena Evans

1996-2013: Miss Sarah Evans

Miss Sarah Evans was hired in 1996 and was the first headmistress to be married and have a child. She shared many of the school's core values and was keenly interested in community service and broadening opportunities.

As a Quaker, quiet contemplation was a valuable part of her life. This was reflected in school with the introduction of a moment of silence at the end of assembly, to replace prayers in an increasingly modern and multi-faith school. Miss Evans encouraged girls to develop their interests outside of the classroom, founding the Breakfast Club - a group enabling Sixth Form to discuss current affairs - and starting Sixth Form Seminar Lunches - an opportunity for girls to give a presentation on a subject of their choice to a group of subject specialists, parents, staff and governors as preparation for university interviews.

It was also under Miss Evans' leadership that the school became increasingly involved in teacher training, opened the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre and, in 2011, became a National Teaching School. Miss Evans also faced her share of difficulties, including dealing with the withdrawal of government assisted places. It later fell to her to make the difficult decision about iGCSEs, which offer a better curriculum in many subjects, but which wreak havoc with the league tables.

For many years, the senior leadership team of Miss Evans, Mrs Bannister and Mrs Eames formed an important part of the school's character, with each of them knowing all of the girls on an individual basis. Mrs Bannister and Mrs Eames retired in 2005, but remain actively involved in the school to this day. Miss Evans retired in 2013.

a picture of Sarah Evans

2013-2020: Mrs Clark

Mrs Clark was appointed in Autumn 2012 and took up her post in September 2013. A Cambridge graduate like many of her predecessors, she brought a broad range of educational experience, having attended a selective all girls Direct Grant School herself and worked in four comprehensive schools, a Further Education College and the Department of Education at the University of Sheffield.

Determined that the girls’ experience should be academically rigorous, but allow for diversity, Mrs Clark made changes to the curriculum, introducing Drama as a GCSE subject and a second language for all (German or Spanish) in the Lower Fourth. She then amended the options system, relaxing the core curriculum to allow girls to pursue their interests and passions and giving them more choice. Considered controversial by some, this meant that whilst most girls continued to study all three sciences, this was not mandatory. Latin became an option and the requirement to study a Modern Foreign Language gave girls a choice of French or their second language, or indeed both. She also reduced the number of GCSEs from eleven or even twelve GCSEs to ten, underlining the principle that girls and staff should have the opportunity to study for pleasure rather than simply to pass examinations at 16 which were merely steppingstones to future study.

Mrs Clark encouraged the expansion of the extra- and co-curricular programmes, a number of which were offered jointly with KES. Further opportunities were created for girls to perform for friends and peers beyond the stunning termly concerts and the Junior and Senior Productions, allowing beginners to perform in the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre in front of sympathetic audiences in addition to outstandingly talented and more experienced musicians and actors.

Recognising that the beautiful buildings were a key part of the School’s heritage, she oversaw upgrades to the fabric of the School, creating additional social spaces for girls and refurbishing classrooms and windows on a rolling basis. She convinced governors of the need for KEHS to have its own Design Technology suite and plans were drawn up for a new building to join the Peter Bennett Art Block to the main school next to the physics labs, emphasising the links between Art and the Sciences. Put on hold during the pandemic, this new building will, in time, offer bespoke spaces for girls’ creativity in Design Technology.

In common with her predecessors, Mrs Clark was deeply committed to the notion of accessibility, and the aim of the Delyvere campaign, launched at the House of Lords, was to raise funds so that girls could attend the school regardless of their parents’ financial circumstances. The generosity of alumnae and friends has supported this aspiration handsomely.

a picture of Mrs Clark

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