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School history

The school takes its name from Sir John Bennet Lawes, the pioneering agricultural scientist and founder of Rothamsted Experimental Station. (The Station is now over 150 years old and has a worldwide reputation for agricultural research). As well as founding an agricultural centre Sir John Bennet Lawes also endowed Harpenden with land for its first school. We trace our history from that foundation. We have been on our present site since 1939, following a move from older premises in the town centre.

In 1847 a meeting was held to consider setting up a Harpenden British School on the principles of the British and Foreign School Society. A site was provided in trust by John Bennet Lawes and subscriptions were sought to finance a school for 300 pupils, however insufficient funds were raised and a rather smaller school was built.

In 1850 the British School opened with two schoolrooms, one for boys and one for girls, each large enough to accommodate 80 pupils. Attendance in the early years was less than expected and caused comment on the apparent indifference of Harpenden parents! However things gradually improved.

In 1894 the Harpenden School Board was formed to take over the role of the previous managers of the British School. This was the last of such boards to be formed in Hertfordshire. When the board took control, the site and buildings of the British School reverted to Sir John Lawes' ownership, but he loaned them to the School Board for five years until a new site and premises could be obtained. On 12 January 1897 the new Harpenden Board School opened at Victoria Road with rooms for 140 boys, 120 girls and 140 infants.

In 1919 the Boys', Girls' and Infants' departments at Victoria Road School were reorganised into Senior Mixed School and Junior Mixed School. A campaign began for a new school and Hertfordshire County Council purchased some land on Manland Common. Several new designs were considered for providing new senior and junior schools on the Manland sites.

In 1938 the building of the new schools began. Building was completed in the summer of 1939 but by September when the schools were to open, war had been declared. Arthur Watts took up duties as Headmaster of Manland Common Senior Elementary School but the opening had to be delayed for a week until 21 September 1939 to arrange for accommodation of evacuees. When the new term began without ceremony, the Manland School senior pupils had to share the buildings with thepupils of the Hugh Myddleton School, evacuated from London.

Lessons were often interrupted by air-raid alarms, staff and students sheltering in the reinforced basement of the school pupils sometimes ‘forgetting’ to take their work with them! Despite the difficulties, pupils joined the war effort, growing vegetables on school allotments, turning out splints and bed-tables for use in hospitals during craft classes and knitting scarves, balaclavas, etc for the troops. Manland participated in National Savings drives like Salute the Soldier Week and Warship Week.

On 5 April 1950 Mr W Watts retired and was succeeded by Mr E W Bloxham, JP, OBE. The new intake of pupils in September brought the school roll to 500. By 1958 the school was hard put to find enough teaching space and plans were made to build an extension to provide new Science laboratories for 1959/60

It was 1 February 1961 when the new Science Laboratories which were built at the end of the main building came into use. There was a stairway at the end of the corridor to reach them. This was removed in a later development. The old Science room at the end of the top corridor was re-fitted to provide a new, larger library. Further developments took place in 1962. A block of four new classrooms (two up and two down) was built next to the new Science labs with access by the same staircase. There was an extension to the Housecraft Block to replace a temporary cookery room in a hut in the playground (though the hut would now be used for biology classes). A Rural Science unit a greenhouse and a new garden was provided. Other internal alterations provided a room for the Deputy Head, a large common room for staff and special rooms for Maths and Technical Drawing. Trustees of Manland Scholars' Trust first met in April 1962.

On 19 July 1968 Mr EW Bloxham retired, having been headmaster since April 1950. Mr CJP Roberts assumed the headship in September 1968.

During Mr Roberts' years of Headship (1968-1981) the school maintained its links with the National Children’s Home at the Highfield Oval. Many students from the home were educated and enjoyed their time at Manland School. Unfortunately student numbers fell as by the time Mr Roberts retired, there was speculation regarding the future of the school.

The arrival of Mr K E Horner saw the beginning of the exciting and successful journey to present day. There was a new feel to Manland School; structures and systems were improved and embedded. The residents of Harpenden began to recognise the positive side to Manland School as an educational establishment. To herald this new beginning, Mr Horner and the Governors changed the name of the school to Sir John Lawes School, named after the agricultural scientist who founded Rothamsted Experimental Station. However, the journey was not without problems. In 1989 the LEA decided to close one of its secondary schools and the debate raged whether it should be Wheathampstead School or Sir John Lawes. Mr Horner supported by the school Governors, staff and parents led a campaign to save Sir John Lawes School, which eventually saw the closure of Wheathampstead School.

The school continued to grow in popularity but Mr Horner was once again faced with another battle to save Sir John Lawes School. Despite an increase in the school’s popularity the LEA announced plans to merge Roundwood Park School and Sir John Lawes on the Roundwood Park site. This again resulted in another successful campaign which resulted in the LEA changing its education plans for Harpenden. It looked like the future of the school was now secure on its site in Manland Way.

Following several successful years Mr Horner left Sir John Lawes in 1993 for another Headship in Dunstable. He left a school that was in a good position to continue its development and ready for a new Headteacher.

In 1993 the Governors appointed Ms J Creasy, the first female Headteacher in the school’s history. No one at the time could have envisaged how this appointment would affect the school as it entered one of the most exciting periods of its history.

The local community was beginning to support the school by sending their children, and the school’s population increased. Several new building projects took place including a new humanities block, and several internal alterations were made to accommodate the growing numbers of students staying in the Sixth Form. There was great elation when the school had over 100 first choice applications. The name of Sir John Lawes School was beginning to be recognised throughout the county. The new sports hall was built and the old gymnasium was turned into the library, the old changing rooms being used for IT suites. The old lecture theatre was transformed into a drama studio. The all-weather pitch was turned sideways; the school site was now beginning to look different. As Mrs Creasy’s term of office came to an end, the school was looking forward to the new Sixth Form block being built next to the sports hall. It was also at this time that the school received its first Specialist School Status for Media Arts. Excitingly a new TV studio was built and all students could enjoy the new facility which supported teaching and learning in all subject areas.

Mrs Creasy left Sir John Lawes to work with the National College and the school gained a new Headteacher, Mr Shaun Fenton. Under his leadership and guidance the school’s popularity continued to increase. Each year group had at least 180 students and the exam results at KS3, KS4 and KS5 continued to put the school amongst the elite of Hertfordshire. Mr Fenton challenged all students to succeed, he changed the curriculum offered to students and focused on their areas of strength and created the opportunity for time to be spent on enriching their learning and enjoyment of the subjects they were studying. The school continued to flourish both in and out of the classroom. Exam results improved and students enjoyed an extensive extra-curricular programme. School trips became an important part of school life, including the annual ski trip to Switzerland, the European Music trip for musicians and singers, the Geography trip to Iceland, the English and History trips to the battlefields of the First World War, not forgetting the French, German and USA exchanges. It was near the end of his Headship when the school embarked on its first World Challenge trip to Thailand.

In 2003 the school received its second specialism as a Training School.

When in 2007 Mr Fenton left to be Head of Pate’s Grammar School in Cheltenham the reins of Headships were taken over by one of the then Deputy Heads, Ms Claire Robins. The school continued to expand and was preparing for an Ofsted inspection knowing that the highest accolade was within its grasp. Under Ms Robins’ leadership, all the hard work of staff, pupils, governors and parents was rewarded by the school receiving an 'Outstanding' judgement by Ofsted.

All our hard work had been recognised and the school was now regarded by all as one of the best schools in Hertfordshire. A third specialism quickly followed when the school became a Science College. At that time three specialisms was unheard of throughout the county.

Where could the school go now? Not resting on its laurels, the school was invited by the local authority to work in partnership (EIP) with an underachieving school in Bushey. This was another opportunity for staff to work with teachers, encouraging improvement and success and another way of our staff gaining experience to advance the teaching and learning at Sir John Lawes.

As a result of the work done with Bushey and our Outstanding Ofsted judgment we were designated a National Support School by NCSL in 2009.

An amazing journey! The school continues to be in a good shape, nationally recognised and offering life-changing opportunities for its students.

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