In 1918 the school-leaving age was raised to 14, although this largely affected pupils in the elementary schools, rather than those whose parents had made a commitment to extended education in the secondary schools.
The great loss of life among young men in the Great War and the invaluable contribution made to the war effort by women employed in vital industries like munitions production undoubtedly accelerated the emancipation of women and highlighted the benefits to be derived from their education.
During the inter-war years, the girls’ secondary school expanded substantially and was considered at times to be overcrowded. Then, as now, the site was small for its purpose and in order to provide additional recreational area part of Roy Corke’s builders’ yard, which occupied the area upon which the Sports Hall was later built, was purchased to construct two netball courts and a small piece of garden.
The growth of the school population led to the purchase of additional accommodation in 1925 at St Peter’s Institute, to the south-west of the school. By 1931, the school was heavily overcrowded, housing up to 770 girls largely in what is now the main building of Priory School. The overcrowding became more of a problem in 1932, when the school was first permitted to have a sixth form. In 1934 a new practical wing, known as the “annexe” was built, later to be completely destroyed in the war.
The overcrowding of the girls’ secondary school and, indeed, of the boys’ school on the same site was alleviated in 1922 by the opening of secondary schools in the north of the City, at first in temporary premises but in 1933 in a new building which is now Mayfield Comprehensive. The two schools on the Priory site then provided for the boys and girls from the south of the city. Pupils at that time were selected by examination and by the willingness of their parents to support their children in education beyond the elementary stage. Modest fees were charged by the secondary schools (amounting to about £5 per term by the late 1930s), although there were facilities for giving assistance to pupils whose parents were unable to afford the cost involved.
At that time, pupils at the age of 15 or 16 sat the examinations of the School Certificate. This was a grouped examination in which candidates were awarded certificates at two levels according to their success in a range of subjects, the higher level, known as “matriculation” requiring success in English, mathematics and a language other than English plus two other subjects. During this period there was a growth in the number of older pupils, sixth-formers, who sat at the age of 17 or 18 the Higher School Certificate, broadly equivalent to present-day A levels.
Just as the Great War had brought about a change in the attitude to and the provision for post-elementary education for girls as well as boys, the Second World War was also to have a massive impact on the school.