In 1974, education in Portsmouth underwent the largest re-organisation in its history, for which all staff were required to resign their posts for reappointment, in most cases, to posts within the new system.
In contrast with Southampton, where the conversion of most of the secondary schools into small comprehensives generated problems when the school system subsequently went through a period of falling rolls, Portsmouth created a smaller number of fairly large comprehensives, the smaller secondary schools being converted into schools for younger pupils.
At that time, middle schools were very much in favour and it was decided to establish in Portsmouth first schools for pupils aged five to seven and middle schools for those aged eight to eleven, with the secondary schools providing for twelve to eighteen year olds.
The Southern Grammar School for Girls took in Southsea girls’ and boys’ secondary modern schools, to form Priory Comprehensive. The choice of name for the new school was based on the references to a priory on old maps of the area and, no doubt, was intended to capitalise on its academic associations. The boys’ secondary modern school became Craneswater Middle School, while the girls’ school became Fernhurst Middle.
The conversion to a comprehensive almost doubled the number of pupils at the school, so additional accommodation was needed. This was provided mainly in the form of the three-storey building adjacent to Rugby Road, now the technology building, but known for many years as the “new building”. Other adaptations were also carried out. The ground floor of the main building was extensively refurbished to form offices. The hall in the main building was converted to an open-plan library (to be converted back to a hall a decade later).
With the establishment of a new comprehensive school, the boys of the Southsea Secondary Modern remained for a year on the St Ronan’s Road site and the final year girls at Francis Avenue. This was to allow the completion, scheduled for September 1975, of the new building and it caused major organisational problems as staff commuted between Fawcett Road and the other two sites. Pupils originating from the secondary modern school were largely taught in separate classes from the grammar school girls as they moved up the school, although a few pupils, including boys, were moved into the top band and entered the sixth form.
With the introduction of comprehensive schooling, the catchment area of Priory was defined geographically by roads enclosing the south-east quadrant of Portsea Island. Its western boundary was Victoria Road and its northern boundary ran along Goldsmith Avenue, turning to the north-east as it approached the Eastern Road.
During this period, the sixth form of the school flourished as never before, building up to as many as 130 students of both sexes by the early 1980s.
In 1977, the new comprehensive school received a sad blow by the illness and death of the widely respected headteacher, Mrs Mary Murray-Dudgeon. In January 1978 the writer took up his post as the first male headteacher.