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
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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.

A few years after being elected to ASCL Council (www.ascl.org.uk/council), I mentioned my interest in ASCL’s history to General Secretary Geoff Barton, who put me in touch with William Richardson (read more), and two years ago, we embarked on a 150th anniversary project, bringing the remarkable story of ASCL into the present. 

I made several visits to Warwick’s Modern Records Centre, a “repository for national archives of trade unions and employers’ organisations” and home of much of the ASCL archive prior to 1980. Covid interrupted several planned visits, but, in February 2022, I visited and began digitising thousands of documents and books. I have now amassed around 3,000 scans from Warwick and around 500 newspaper articles ranging from the mundane to the profound. 

Collaborating for the greater good 

The Association of Headmistresses (AHM) was founded in 1874 and 16 years later in 1890, the Headmasters’ Association (HMA) had begun out of need. Need that reflected growth of boys’ education without the necessary infrastructure or support that was available to members of the Headmasters’ Conference (HMC). William Fowler, one of the early founders, wrote to the Evening Standard in 1891 stating “There can be no doubt but that the association, if it goes on as it has begun, will have a great influence on the secondary education of the country,“

The Association of Headmistresses (AHM) and the Headmasters’ Association (HMA) were close, not just ideologically, but physically; they had shared office space from 1921. After a change in trade union law banning single sex unions, both the headmistresses and the headmasters voted overwhelmingly to amalgamate. Thus in 1978, the Secondary Heads Association (SHA) was born. Writing in The Independent, former headteacher and Oxford University Academic, Harry Judge, in a tribute to John Dorell, General Secretary, described his most “durable achievement was helping to persuade the headmasters and headmistresses to get into bed together, and to found the influential Secondary Heads’ Association”. 

My reading of archive documents led me to conclude SHA took uncompromising positions on school autonomy, cared deeply about those it represented and worked constructively with government but was never afraid to pull its punches, as former SHA General Secretary John Sutton said in 1996, “The attack on comprehensive schools is a lie of which the late Dr Goebbels would have been proud.“ 

A humbling experience 

Some of the story of ASCL can be found in the archives, but the personal stories of the leaders and presidents who forged the association were sometimes slightly harder to uncover. Some like Frances Buss, Dorothea Beale and Sophie Bryant had written, and were the subject of, numerous books. For others, I had to rely on newspaper archives and obituaries when creating a comprehensive gallery of all of ASCL’s past presidents. It became obvious that whilst some of the key figures were educational powerhouses, others were quite ordinary school leaders. 

Where little information was available, I contacted family members, or, for more recent ASCL leaders, I contacted them directly. This has been the greatest privilege of this whole project, and I am still humbled by my correspondence with Geoff Goodall, former president, who first joined what would become ASCL 58 years ago. 

The power of education 

The most satisfying part of the project came when visiting Central Boys’ Foundation School to photograph a painting of Richard Wormell, the second president of the Headmasters’ Association, and thereby completing a set of 165 presidential portraits, spanning 150 years. 

It is sometimes hard to connect with an organisation through its responses to legislation or policy position statements but having spent two years researching these extraordinary and ’extraordinary in their ordinariness’ men and women, I feel I understand ASCL so much better. All of them, even a few of the ’less easy to like’, 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. The leading characters The ASCL story The know zone cared deeply about young people and they believed passionately in the power of education to change the world. 

Former US president Teddy Roosevelt once said, “speak softly and carry a big stick”. ASCL has rarely ever needed to shout because the big stick it carries is you, the people up and down this country that make our schools, colleges and trusts work. The story of ASCL is really the story of you.

Rich Atterton
Assistant Headteacher, Chair of the ASCL LGBT+ Leaders’ Network and ASCL DASH (Deputy and Assistant Head) Representative