Blue Coat School was co-educational from its very inception in 1708, but with the boy and girls educated separately with their own staff of male and female teachers. The first schoolmistress Mrs. Lloyd, followed by Ellen Bibby. The girls were prepared for domestic service and taught the skills of running kitchens, cooking, laundries, household duties, knitting and sewing. Later on, many used these skills for sea-going careers as female stewards were needed to look after women and children passengers, as emigrant numbers sailing from Liverpool to the Americas, Australasia and Africa soared. However, even in the 1940s, girls were only taught academic subjects in English, Arithmetic and History, while Physics and Chemistry were only taught to the boys.
Wanting to join her brothers at Blue Coat, Old Blue Audrey Wheeler, experienced the School’s WWII evacuation to Beaumaris, Anglesey, in September 1939. The Headmistress was Mrs Dorothy Smith, who wrote a famous fictionalised novel of the school, called Those Greylands Girls.
Audrey recalled her arrival in Beaumaris: “It was a beautiful sunny day while we all waited on the green to be taken to our billets. Eventually, Enid Gallagher and I were taken to a large pink house. PINK! I came from a council house by the gas works! The house had a flagpole and strings of outdoor fairy lights.
“Mrs Sloan whose house it was lived with her sister Miss Winter, both were wonderfully kind. Nothing was too much trouble to make us feel at home. They provided paper, crayons and wool for making dolls’ clothes and for dressing up. Eventually, the Blue Coat girls were all housed in Red Hill House. There was no electricity at first, so oil lamps were used. You can’t imagine how excited we all were waiting for the newly installed electricity to be turned on!
“As Senior Girl at Red House, I had to oversee the ablutions of 20 of the young boys after they’d cleaned their shoes before bed. Everything was in short supply, so we girls were cross when the boys got new blazers while we were unpicking our old jumpers and washing the wool to be re-knitted into new jumpers. Senior girls had to knit their own and another one for the younger girls. Knitting was going on non-stop! We also darned boys’ socks too. A lot of boys, a lot of socks, a lot of holes!
“On return from Beaumaris, I became a Junior House Matron with the girls. I don’t remember it being difficult, but it could have been. One special event was going to Liverpool Cathedral when a number of us girls were confirmed. We wore our splendid traditional uniforms and a veil instead of our bonnets – how I loved my bonnet!
“Sunday service in Shirley Hall was rather unusual in that it was conducted by the children; later I learnt apparently directed with discreet hand signals by the Head! As we filed out, the boys bowed to the two trustees present and the girls curtsied. My experience of the School was a happy one and I look back on it with great affection.”
The school’s conversion from charitable hospital school status to state voluntary aided in 1949 abruptly stopped its co-educational status after 241 years, although the girls and boys only came together for daily worship and meals – and were forbidden from any contact, even if they were siblings. Government policy decreed that secondary education was single sex, so the girls were sent to St Peter’s College, Wolverhampton.
Just as national policy dictated Blue Coat School’s change to a boys’ only school, so with a different educational ethos it invited girls to apply for entry to the school in 1989, initially as Sixth Formers. This time the 20 trailblazers were integrated into classes, rather than separately taught as previously. Then from 2002, girls could take the entrance exam for Year 7 and now the school is fully co-educational.