The 1944 Education Act & Bromley Technical High School for Girls
Written by Pam Preedy.
The 1944 Education Act was groundbreaking. It replaced the previous education system with three separate stages that we would recognise today: primary, secondary and further education.
It also introduced a three-tiered system to secondary education: grammar, technical and secondary modern schools. The dreaded 11+ test was introduced to decide which type of secondary school a child should enter. The Act also provided for the raising of the school leaving age from 14 to 15; this was achieved in April, 1947, with the recommendation that it should rise again to 16. This was only achieved on 1st September, 1971.
Bromley Education Committee was faced with the challenge to provide secondary school places for the increased number of children. Additional accommodation was needed and in the first instance this was to be in huts. It would also mean buying land, often through compulsory purchase, to replace the huts in the long term and add dining accommodation.
Bromley was one of the few areas that introduced all three tiers in secondary education. In many areas there were only grammar and secondary modern schools, the latter catering for 75% of the population. Only 5% of the population went to a technical school. I found the 11+ particularly unnerving.
I even went off my food – the only time ever! I was allocated to Bromley Technical High School for Girls in 1957, now called Bullers Wood, at Bickley. It was a trek to get there from Eden Park. I took the 7.40am 194A bus to Beckenham and then the 227 rather than the train. In the first few years I would be ready so early I could catch the earlier bus and was usually one of the first girls to arrive at the school. By the last few years my mother would stand in the road to shout when the 8am bus was in view and I would dash out of the house, just in time to catch it! I remember few, if any, children were taken to school by car.
The school comprised three large Victorian houses: Bullers Wood, Hydeswood and Inglewood, connected with new buildings, housing the hall, classrooms and dining rooms. It was a short trek to get to Inglewood, passing on the way the caretaker’s cottage which was later developed into a gymnasium, the new laboratories and on up a short hill to the house. In 1957, this was mainly used for those learning secretarial skills and, I think, for those planning a career in nursing.
Bullers Wood, a substantial Victorian house surrounded by extensive grounds, was leased by the Sanderson family in the late 1880s. The Sandersons decided to modernise and redecorate the house. Its main claim to fame was, and still is, the library – originally the drawing room, decorated by William Morris. It still retains William Morris wallpaper and his decorated ceiling. The original William Morris carpet is held by the V & A Museum.
In the 1930s, Sir Sydney Nicholson, organist of Westminster Abbey, bought Bullers Wood and founded a choir school. He built Hydeswood as a home for himself. As the choir school expanded, it moved into part of this building. In 1944, the Bromley Day Commercial School moved into Bullers Wood when its premises in Wharton Road suffered bomb damage from a flying bomb that landed in the playground.
Finally, in 1947 this became the Bromley Technical High School for Girls and today is Bullers Wood School for Girls. Bullers Wood was the heart of the school.
Our cloakrooms were in the basement; the headmistress had her office on the first floor and the staff had a common room in the attics, though this became a prefects’ room when I reached the Sixth Form.
This is the school that I attended, surrounded by the wonderful grounds that a tomboy such as myself and my friends could enjoy. I remember once falling from a tree. I was slightly hurt, but didn’t dare admit this to any teacher in case I got into trouble. Our year was the first year to go to the school aged 11. Before this the school only took 13+ year olds.
I have warm memories of my time there and had an excellent education.
Further your research
For more information visit the Bromley Historic Collections on the 2nd floor of Bromley Central Library to learn more about Bromley Borough’s history.
Originally published in Life in Bromley magazine (Issue 6, August 2022)