K14: Coombe Girls Schools


Coombe Girls’ School, originally Coombe County Secondary Girls’ School pre-1965, opened in 1955. It is listed under both Clarence Avenue and Darley Drive in Kingston’s planning database (the later is a bus blind destination for when the 213 is running a shortened route). The Planning Record shows that movable classrooms were added in 1966, the caretaker’s flat in 1972, garages in 1975, a portable double classroom in 1993, a three storey extenstion in 1998, a new sixth form centre 2001, extensions in 2003 and 2009, the refurbishment of a lab in 2004, Sports Hall and Music & Drama suites in 2004, and GP surgery 2004. This shows how the demands on the school have changed and increased over time to accommodate more and more students and to offer a wider curriculum.

A guide to Secondary Education at Kingston History Centre dated 1971 includes a page on Coombe Girls’ School, written by the then Headmistress Mrs A P Taylor.  It mentions route 213A in the second line! Accommodation at the time included 3 Housecraft Rooms, 2 Needlework Rooms, 3 Art Rooms, 5 Science Laboratories, a Language Laboratory, Main Library and 6th Form Reference Library, Gymnasium and Redgra Hockey Pitch. The general course in the first 3 years included Modern Mathematics, Nuffield Science, French, Geography, History, Religious Education, Housecraft, Needlework, Art, Music and Physical Education. English teaching included speech and drama. After that, English, Maths and French were compulsory but otherwise pupils could choose their courses. It was expected that all pupils complete 6 or 7 ‘O’ Levels. At the time, there were 1000 pupils, 100 in the 6th form which offered various  ‘A’ levels, a Commercial Course (shorthand, typing and an ‘A’ level in Economics) and supplementary ‘O’ Levels. Out of school activities included a guitar club, Christian Union and Trampolining. All girls were expected to do homework and to wear school uniform.

Plans to build a sports centre in 2000 had 300 strong resident opposition. An Ofsted report in 1999 said the school had “unsatisfactory” physical education, music and drama facilities. Community use for new facilities was part of the lottery funding, set to be open 9am until 10pm weekdays and 9am until 5pm weekends. Neighbours were against the increase in noise, parking and traffic problems which a new facility might bring and formed an action group in October 1999 to fight the proposals. At the time, 1200 pupils were using the original 1950s sports hall which has been built to accommodate 600, and spending valuable time travelling to facilities at Kingsmeadow and the Malden Centre for lessons. Residents felt that the nature of the area as primarily residential was under threat. The community use of new facilities (eventually built in 2004) doesn’t seem to have happened, although Kingston Adult Education did’ provide tennis courses at the Coombe Evening Centre’, based at the School on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings for a time.

The Girls’ School now forms part of an Academy Trust alongside Coombe Boys’, Coombe Sixth Form and Knollmead Primary.



Selective Secondary Education in Kingston

On the formation of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames in 1965, the Council ran its own schools, further and higher education. It was responsible for around 17,500 pupils, in 39 primary and 15 secondary schools. In 1966, 1700 11 year olds would transfer to secondary education and participate in “A procedure… used to select those pupils who appear to be capable of benefiting from a more intensive academic course”, i.e. the selection process to enter Grammar education which only 20% pupils would be offered.

The test was open to any resident or pupil currently attending school in the borough, and the guidance says that “nothing is lost by unsuitable candidates not taking the  tests” which is certainly an exercise in understanding double negatives. The tests were 3 papers in English, Mathematics and Verbal Reasoning, taken in January 1966, plus an essay submitted at some point during the preceding term; results were adjusted for the age of the pupil. After the results, parents were able to select a first and second choice of school, “organised on a neighbourhood basis” with each school serving its locality. At this time, Coombe Girls School had Grammar places available alongside standard secondary education, i.e. it was mixed stream school.

“Every effort is made to select at eleven years all those pupils who will be suitable for a full course leading to GCE ‘A’ Level but there will be some pupils whose capacity for advanced study does not become apparent until later”.

If you went to a comprehensive and achieved 4 passes at O-Level then you may still be considered for 6th form at a Grammar School, dependent on an entry interview/assessment process.

In 1967, national government promoted and began to enforce comprehensive education rather than the academic selection process of grammars.

I went to a mixed, none-selective state high school and personally don’t think that it is appropriate to judge a child’s ability at the age of 11 years old. I value my time at school as it allowed me to interact with many different types of people and to appreciate that not all knowledge is academic. To limit somebody’s options as a child is to limit the contribution they can make as an adult and I am an advocate for access to an education at any age when a person shows the inclination for it.