Until Solihull became a County Borough Council on 1st April 1964, the provision of state education in the area was the responsibility of Warwickshire County Council. We’re aware of five special schools in the Solihull urban/metropolitan district, catering for children with physical or learning disabilities:
- Tudor Grange (later Swanswell)
- Reynalds Cross
- Forest Oak
- Hazel Oak
In addition, there was also a special school at nearby Packwood Haugh, Warwickshire.
Tudor Grange Special School, Blossomfield Road, Solihull was apparently one of the first special schools in the country. It came about through the efforts of Mr Michael Wainwright, of Warwickshire County Council’s Education Department, who embraced the principle of the 1944 Education Act that local authorities should provide special schools.
Tudor Grange Special School was officially opened on 17th October 1949 and took in children between the ages of six and sixteen who had a physical disability. Many of the children were from deprived backgrounds and all had physically disabling conditions such as polio or cerebral palsy.
The first headmaster was Robert (“Bob”) Idwal Evans (1916-1994) who lived in the house with his wife, Caroline (née Hughes), their four children, and up to 40 boarding students. The school provided residential and day accommodation for up to 50 pupils from across the country and from the local area.
The school, by then known as Tudor Grange Day and Residential Special School, closed in the summer of 1976. It was replaced by the purpose-built Swanswell School, which was built on the Langley School campus in Kineton Green Road, Olton.
Swanswell opened to pupils in the autumn of 1976 with 51 of its maximum 80 pupils. Mr Evans moved to Swanswell and was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. He retired as headmaster, aged 65, in July 1981, having served as the school’s headteacher for 32 years. Swanswell School closed in 1988 but its campus subsequently became home to another special school.
Two of Mr Evans’ sons kindly deposited various papers and photographs relating to Tudor Grange and Swanswell with The Core Library on 17th October 2014 – the 65th anniversary of the official opening of the school.
Newspaper reports suggest that Warwickshire had no special schools for children with learning difficulties until 1948 when Tyntesfield School opened near Rugby.
Packwood Residential Special School seems to have opened in January 1951 in the former Packwood Haugh School, Glasshouse Lane, Hockley Heath.
Packwood Haugh School, a boys’ preparatory school, had relocated to Ruyton XI Towns, Shropshire in 1940. Between 1942-1946 Packwood Haugh was home to Newbold College, a missionary training school for Seventh-day adventists, whose premises in Newbold, Warwickshire had been requisitioned by the Royal Air Force. The college moved to Binfield, Berkshire in 1946 and the 16-acre Packwood Haugh site was advertised for sale by private treaty in November 1946.
Packwood Special School catered for 60 boys aged 10-16 and appears to have closed in 1979. Warwickshire County Record Office holds some records of the school.
Packwood had been part of the Solihull Rural District from 1894 but when the Rural District became an Urban District in 1932 the parish of Hockley Heath (including Packwood) was moved to Stratford-upon-Avon District Council.
The first school for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the Solihull district seems to have been Reynalds Cross School, which opened in Haslucks Green Road, Shirley in 1967.
It moved to the Swanswell site after Swanswell School closed in 1988, sharing a campus with Langley Secondary School in Olton.
In 2018, Reynalds Cross School took over Green Lane Nursery, which was set up as Green Lane Playgroup in 1968 by Solihull Special Needs Association. The Green Lane site now houses Reynalds Cross School’s nursery and reception classes, whilst older pupils, up to the age of 19, are based at the Kineton Green campus.
Reynalds Cross caters for children from the age of 2½ to 19, with severe to profound multiple learning difficulties. A large proportion of the students have autistic spectrum conditions.
Hazel Oak School, Hazeloak Road, Shirley opened in April 1970 and was planned to accommodate 120 boys and girls up to the age of 16.
A review of special education in 1993 saw a proposal for junior school special education to be focused on Hazel Oak, and senior school education to be moved to Forest Oak School. This would have entailed a 16-mile round trip each day for junior pupils being transported from Chelmsley Wood to Shirley, and for senior pupils taking the journey in reverse. Parents were worried about the upheaval this would cause to their children and the plans were scrapped.
It caters for children aged 4-19 who have a moderate learning difficulty (MLD). Many of the pupils have autistic spectrum conditions.
Forest Oak School, Lanchester Way, Castle Bromwich was open by 1970. Together with Merstone School, it moved to a new campus (Solihull Centre for Inclusive Learning) on Windward Way, Smith’s Wood in June 2006. The two schools operate separately but share some specialist facilities and are located alongside Smith’s Wood Academy.
The schools were the first in the country to be opened under the government’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme after Solihull Council secured £80m in government funding in 2004 to rebuild schools in the north of the borough. Forest Oak caters for children aged 4-19 who have a moderate learning difficulty (MLD).
In 2018, Forest Oak’s Sixth Form relocated to the Woodlands campus of Solihull College.
Merstone Day Special E.S.N. (S) School, as it was originally known, opened in January 1974 in Marston Green and catered for children with severe and complex learning difficulties. A proposal by Solihull Council to close the school and transfer its 45 pupils to a school eight miles away was scrapped in 1993 after a petition organised by parents.
Merstone School moved from Exeter Drive, Marston Green to Smith’s Wood in the summer of 2006 and, together with Forest Oak School, opened on the new Solihull Centre for Inclusive Learning Campus in Windward Way.
Merstone School caters for children aged 2-19 who have a Severe Learning Difficulty (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty (PMLD).
Do you have information to add?
We are always keen to add to our archives, so if you have any photographs, documents or stories about special education in Solihull, past or present, that you would like to share with us and future generations, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977
© Solihull Council, 2020.
You are welcome to link to this article, but if you wish to reproduce more than a short extract, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org