LETTER: Appreciation of headmaster

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I remember the late J.S. [John Stuart] Morris sweeping out of morning assemblies in a black academic gown, tall, thin, bespectacled, a benevolent smile interrupting his stern gaze, a distant figure punctuating my ordered daily school life.

He was 43 when he was appointed headmaster of Eastbourne Grammar School. He was innovative, dropping boys’ afternoon register-calling before going home, and the rule to change into gym shoes indoors. East Sussex County Council became the Education Authority in 1974. To mark that, the four school houses, County, Cavendish, Devonshire and Upperton, became three – Grove, St Anne’s and King’s, the three roads where this school was in the course of its 75-year history.

It was the last year of the bright 2nd Years’ (Year 8)) leap into the 4th (Year 10), an Oxbridge-inspired culture promoted by the previous headmaster Mr Shaw. The road ahead was a comprehensive system for East Sussex, with secondary schools 11-16 and a sixth form college planned for Eastbourne. A panoramic black and white photograph of the school in 1977 was taken for the history books.

September 1977 was the beginning of a programme of change, as principal John Morris managed staff and building alterations across the two sites of the amalgamated boys’ grammar and girls’ high schools, introducing the first mixed lower sixth year and phasing out the lower schools year by year, by ending 11+ selection. Eventually, the Eldon Road site was vacant and Cavendish School moved there from Langney Road. The new Sixth Form dress code was smart casual, or suits, strictly no jeans.

Perhaps the most challenging time of his career was the sudden loss of the assembly hall at King’s Drive in a disastrous, deliberate fire in November 1977. The school gym came into use with tarpaulin floor covers for assemblies, and desks and chairs for exams.

His French MA (Oxon) made him well qualified to say, “Plus ça change!” (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more the change, the more it’s the same thing).

Andrew Somerville

Upperton Gardens

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