Tributes to a much-loved head

Tributes have been paid to the much-loved former head teacher at a what is now a top independent school.

Thursday, 4th February 2016, 3:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th March 2016, 8:51 pm

Malcolm Summerlee was headmaster at Kirkham Grammar from 1972 until 1991, and was credited with leading the school through the most significant changes in its history.

He joined the prestigious school to take the helm in May 1972 from Seaford College in Sussex, where he had been head of geography and a housemaster.

The then grammar school was already facing an uncertain future, with comprehensive reforms of state education being imposed across much of Lancashire, but his “energetic and innovative leadership” quickly strengthened and maintained the affection for and popularity of the school, both in the local area and as a boarding school for boys from further afield.

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The school fought off plans to scrap the then grammar status and merge it with neighbouring Carr Hill High as a split site comprehensive.

Instead, governors took the bold decision to seek independence, a step which reflected their confidence in their young headmaster’s leadership and Mr Sumerlee let the conversion.

At midnight on August 31st 1979, in an original stunt now commemorated by a stained glass window in the headmaster’s Study, a group of governors marked the School’s return to independence by breaking a window pane in the Study with a bottle of champagne and summoning a startled headmaster from his bed in School House, to toast the new era in his dressing gown and slippers.

As head, Mr Summerlee spearheaded the admission of girls into a school which had long been a bastion of masculinity like so many schools of its type, and 30 girls joined first year in September 1979, along with a few sixth form girls. Within seven years, the school was fully co-educational, with girls quickly rising to prominence in the academic, cultural and sporting spheres, inspired by a growing number of female staff and a “supportive and egalitarian Headmaster.”

A statement issued by he school said: “His achievements as headmaster were significant and enduring.

“Never one to allow the school to stand still, he pursued plans and dreams with energy and enthusiasm, never more so than in seeing through his vision of a multi-purpose hall, which was opened in 1990, providing a building which the school’s growing population could use for assemblies, sport, concerts, plays, social events and examinations. The Hall stands largely unchanged to this day as a monument to his vision.”

He is also credited with the creation of the Junior School as well as the transformation of the boarding school in a modern facility and the recruitment of international students.

Mr Sumnnerlee died at he age of 88 after a short illness in his adopted home in Canada, where he and his wife had lived since retiring from the hotel which he ran in the Lake District in the years immediately following his retirement as headmaster.