St John Fisher Catholic High School as we know it today started life as Our Lady and St John Fisher Secondary School on Ainsty Road in Harrogate. The 1944 Education Act required Catholic authorities to undertake an extensive school building programme and in Harrogate this came to fruition in 1957 with the building of a Catholic High School on Ainsty Road. The first intake of pupils was on 2nd September 1957 when 130 pupils were enrolled. School life in the first few months proved chaotic for staff and children alike as classrooms came into use one by one and books and equipment were still arriving. By the time of the official opening on 29 April 1958 everything was finally ready.
The school consisted of a gym and assembly hall block with a teaching and admin wing running at right angles. A separate single storey practical classroom block accessed via a covered way houses Handicraft, Needlework, and Music rooms as well as a spacious Housecraft room. Leading off this room was a self contained furnished flat, an ideal facility for learning about running a home.
The School Chapel had its own entrance off the main drive but was linked by a folding screen to the Assembly Hall. Total cost of the whole project was about £110,000 and the main contractors were Walter G. Birch of Harrogate.
The first Head Teacher was Mr Hugh Martin followed by Mr Michael Gannon in 1967. Mr Gannon was responsible for the move from Ainsty Road to the present Hookstone Drive site, originally home of the Holy Child Convent, on 25 October 1972. The history of the Hookstone Drive site dates back to 1901 when the nuns of the Convent in Clarence Drive had been looking for a new site to build on and Sir Percy Radcliffe of Rudding Park gave the land that would become their new home. The land was given as a dower for Sir Percy’s daughter, Mary, Mother Mary Aloysius, and the Convent opened in 1904 together with its boarding school.
St John Fisher High School opened with Comprehensive school status on the Hookstone Drive site in September 1973. Also in 1973 the head teachers of St John Fisher (Mr Gannon) and St Aidan’s (Mr Ken Stott) took the decision to combine the sixth forms of both schools. The original sixth forms were deemed too small to be economically viable but there was also the plan to have two schools of different denominations working together. October 1973 saw the opening of the Associated Sixth Form by Princess Margaret. Initially there were only 73 sixth formers who had a limited choice of 6 A level subjects to study. Today the picture is very different.
Christmas 1973 saw a televised Christmas Morning Mass from the Chapel, Monsignor Buckley was the Celebrant.
A new extension was added to the school between 1976 and 1978 to accommodate the rising number of pupils which had reached 700. The extension was officially opened on 21 June 1978 by Bishop Wheeler.
In January 1989 Mr Terry Keelan was appointed Head Teacher. The fortieth anniversary of the school was celebrated in 1998. Pupils numbered 1057 and there were 68 teaching staff and 20 non teaching staff at the school. A panoramic photograph of all staff and pupils was taken to mark the occasion. The Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated by His Lordship, The Right Reverend David Konstant, Bishop of Leeds.
With the retirement of Mr Keelan, Mr Paul Jackson took up the position of Head Teacher at Easter 2001. In this Academic year of 2008-09 there are 1407 pupils on roll, including 374 in the sixth form. The Associated Sixth Form now numbers over 1000 students.
Staff numbers include 95 teachers and 54 support staff working in what Ofsted 2006 described as an ‘outstanding’ school.
Throughout its history the school’s progress has been fully supported by the parents through the SJFA (St John Fisher Association) and the last 10 years have been no exception. With their funding help the school gained Arts Status in 1999, followed by the building of the new Keelan Centre Arts block.
The school has worked to adapt the building to 21st century education requirements, two new science labs built on a flat roof and a Technology IT area extension. In recent years two quad areas have been transformed. The largest in 2006 is now a dining/social/study area for the Sixth Form and in 2008 a new media studies room and admin areas were created.
Collated by Nicola Pollard, School Librarian