Nostalgia: Falkirk’s ‘educational palace’ for sons of the soil

Back in the 1950s Brockville Park was packed out once a year to witness the annual ‘grudge match’ between Falkirk High and Falkirk Technical schools.

By Ian Scott
Friday, 11th September 2020, 7:30 am
Boys working in the woodwork class.
Boys working in the woodwork class.

It was a very popular fixture but the rivalry was about a lot more than who could score the most goals.

It was a rivalry that began in September 1932 with the opening of a brand new secondary school described at the time as an ‘educational palace’ and given the name Falkirk Technical School (now Graeme High).

At a cost of £80,000 two big blocks were built on eight acres of land north of Callendar Road which were very different from the rather grim Victorian sandstone schools in the town. With red brick facings trimmed with white ‘cast stone’ the design owed more to the new art deco style which was growing popular in the 1930s and in every way it looked bright and very modern.

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Girls in the biology department

It was very different too in its educational purpose from Falkirk High School which for decades had offered an academic curriculum to pupils heading for university or the professions.

The new school by contrast would provide “an education suited to the tastes, capacities and future calling” of the children by concentrating on practical training while not ignoring sport and the arts.

On the day the school opened much attention focussed on three surprising innovations.

Firstly, there was a real foundry on a small scale. Since many of the boys would end up working in Carron or Cockburn’s it was thought that they should acquired appropriate vocational skills.

The second innovation was a ‘model house’ within the building “closely resembling a council house dwelling” in which the girls would learn how to be good house keepers!

The plan was that in turns they would actually live in the house with a teacher to supervise them while acquiring housewifery skills.

Whatever was done for boys and girls would be done well “whether it be book-keeping, ironing a shirt or doing a sum”.

The third surprise was the inclusion of a 43 by 21 foot ‘swimming pond’ in the same month as the town got its first public baths in the Pleasance.

The new school would provide further education and training to “youths and maidens whose educational days were past” but who were still eager to learn. It was really the beginning of Further Education in Falkirk a decade or more before the trade training schools of the 40s and 50s and the new Falkirk Technical College in 1963.

Given all of this it is easy to see how the football rivalry was given added spice as the ‘smart Alecs’ from Rennie Street faced up to the ‘horny-handed sons of toil’ from Callendar Road or the long established High scholars against the Tech’s new kids on the block. It led inevitably to many a crunching tackle.

But the new approach didn’t really survive the impact of the comprehensive system in the 1960s. It wasn’t long before the Tech, by then renamed Graeme High, was drawing from the same balanced pupil population and more than matching the academic achievements of the High School.

If you suggested to a young female today that she was going to school to learn how to iron a shirt she probably give you a bunch of fives. Quite right too.

The building is long gone and today’s pupils have a fine modern building with great facilities. But an ‘educational palace’? Probably not.