2024 Spring Term

The know zone

  • The leading characters
    Assistant Headteacher Rich Atterton shines a spotlight on ASCL's remarkable 150-year history and says the story of the association is really the story of you, its members. More
  • Preserve and protect
    William Richardson explains how lockdown created a golden opportunity to recover, catalogue and permanently preserve ASCL's 150-year history. More
  • A look back through time
    Primary education has a rich and vibrant history, evolving over centuries to become the system we know today. Tiffnie Harris unveils the fascinating tale of how education for the youngest minds has transformed from its humble beginnings. More
  • When can I leave school?
    Sixth form education is still a relatively new concept in the context of the last 150 years of education. Kevin Gilmartin looks back at how our present sixth form sector has evolved. More
  • The evolution of business leadership
    Emma Harrison takes readers on a 150-year journey of school business leadership. More
  • Thanks and best wishes...
    From individual support and advice from our hotline and officers to the advice and guidance provided throughout the pandemic and beyond, here ASCL members share their memories and interactions with us and send their best wishes to the association. More
  • Embracing change
    Headteacher Tanya Douglas says she's extremely proud to be one of the longest serving members on ASCL Council - the engine room of the association's policymaking. More
  • Past Tense?
    Carl Smith shares a headmaster's log from 150 years ago and it may or may not surprise you that many of the challenges of the past remain to this day. More
Bookmark and Share

Preserve and protect

William Richardson explains how lockdown created a golden opportunity to recover, catalogue and permanently preserve ASCL’s 150-year history.

Those ASCL members who visited the old HQ building at Regent Road, Leicester, will recall the graceful proportions of a substantial Victorian villa. But how many of these visitors realised that, beneath their feet, lay decades of accumulated historic records detailing the professional concerns and campaigns of fellow school leaders over the past century and more? 

I often visited Regent Road in the 2010s and had heard about its musty cellars, full of half-remembered documents. But no one I spoke to seemed to know what was down there. One day I mentioned this in passing to General Secretary Geoff Barton and he invited me, as a professional historian and fellow union leader, to investigate. 

Discovering ASCL’s past 

In mid-2021, the second Covid lockdown provided the golden opportunity. Most ASCL staff were working from home. The building was quiet. I could carry material up from the cellars at will and set up a large sorting and cataloguing hub in a meeting room. 

From the start, my knowledgeable and patient guide was Angela Stewart, ASCL’s longest serving staff member and the person, above all others, responsible for preserving so much of ASCL’s recent history. Later, once other staff gradually returned to the building and ASCL’s plans to move to a new ’paperless’ office were developing, Angela encouraged everyone packing for the move to bring down to the cataloguing room for review all of the older documents and records found in the various separate offices. In this way, 130 Regent Road gradually offered up its half-remembered past. 

I already knew that some of the ASCL archive had been deposited at the University of Warwick in the mid-1970s and so, early in the project, I negotiated with the university’s Modern Records Centre that the substantial collections from Leicester should join this older material. 

As such, ASCL’s important and wide-ranging archive would be permanently preserved in one place, available to researchers and to the public. Late in 2021, ASCL’s trustees gave a warm go-ahead to this plan. 

What was in the Regent Road archive? 

The material preserved at Leicester (together with the earlier records held at Warwick) now establishes ASCL’s conserved archive as unusually thorough and complete. Dating from the earliest organisation of headmistresses in England (1874) and continuing through all of the following decades to 2020, ASCL’s conserved collections will now extend over a longer period than those of other education unions, including the substantial NUT archive also held at Warwick. 

At Regent Road, particularly important items included a full run of printed Headmasters’ Association reports (1890 to 1978) and very full records, including hundreds of printed publications and other papers, across the entire SHA/ASCL period since 1978. Perhaps as important, the archive also comprises hundreds of images and it is this combination of the visual and the written which will feature strongly in ASCL’s special 150th anniversary online microsite, due to be launched this spring. 

A big thank you, then, to the many ASCL staff who welcomed and assisted in the recovery of this history; their interest and enthusiasm has proved invaluable. 

However, it was Council member Rich Atterton who first argued for significant celebration of ASCL’s 150th anniversary in 2024 and working with him to bring some of the association’s history alive in time for this year’s landmark has been a great pleasure. 

Professor William Richardson
Historian of education at the University of Exeter and was, from 2011-18, General Secretary of HMC (The Heads’ Conference)
Email: W.B.Richardson@exeter.ac.uk