In 1984, the headteachers of the Portsmouth comprehensive schools started a discussion on the viability of sixth forms. Because each comprehensive had its own, the per capita cost of the education provided was high and the range of courses limited. Although the headteachers valued their sixth forms, not least the head of Priory, which had the second largest in the city, they agreed that it would make more sense for sixth form teaching to be located in a college. This idea was developed by the LEA and various possible sites came under discussion. Eventually, it was announced that the Great Salterns Comprehensive School, situated on the Eastern Road, was to be converted for this purpose. The new Portsmouth Sixth Form College started operating in 1984 with considerable movement of teachers from the schools to staff the new institution. Priory, for example, lost its heads of department of mathematics, geography, history, music, art and business studies to the college.
One of the benefits arising from the conversion of Priory to a 12-16 school was a temporary easing of the pressure on space. Availability of the sixth-form building for other uses gave the opportunity for extending and improving provision for special needs and business studies (which had previously occupied the concrete huts in the north playground), setting up new computer rooms and converting small tutorial rooms into administrative offices.
The mid-1980s saw the realisation of the long-awaited North-South Road, which
involved the demolition of some 21sub-standard housing and the movement of Victoria Road North further to the west of the school. This gave Priory a welcome additional acre or so of ground, which allowed the construction in 1987 of the all-weather pitch at a cost of approximately £250,000. Before that development, the western boundary of the school site was approximately half way across the present pitch. It was marked by a row of conifers at the north end of which, located roughly in the position of the present picnic area, there was a gate which opened on to Victoria Road North. Subsequently, in the early 1990s, the pitch was provided with floodlighting at a cost of approximately £100,000. The pitch and its lighting were financed by Hampshire County Council and Portsmouth City Council with grants from the Football Trust and the Sports Council. In recognition of the source of the funding, an agreement was drawn up with the City Council for the community use of the pitch.
In that year the first pupils sat the new General Certificate of Education, which replaced both the GCE ordinary levels and the Certificate of Secondary Education, removing the need for dual entry.
The 1988 Education Act, was the largest piece of legislation on education since 1944. It gave schools the opportunity to opt out of local authority control, although Priory governors remained resolutely opposed to that course of action. More importantly, it introduced local school management, whereby the LEA was required to delegate most of the funds for running the school to the governing body. The Act also provided the statutory basis for the national curriculum which required fundamental changes to the content of and approaches to the curriculum of the school.
For many years the head and the governors had campaigned for the construction of a sports hall on the school site, in view of its small overall size and the shortage of PE and recreational facilities. In 1992 the good news came that the County Council had decided to provide the much-needed building and, moreover, one of higher quality than the metal-clad structure the school had expected. The sports hall was designed by the Hampshire County Architect’s department to complement the main building of the school on Fawcett Road. It was taken over by the school in 1993 and was awarded recognition by the Portsmouth Society as the best building to be constructed in the city during that year.
While the sports hall was under construction, the dining room was upgraded and the quadrangle converted into an outside recreational and dining area. At the same time, the grounds were extensively landscaped and the opportunity was taken to remove so-called temporary structures in the north playground, namely the two wooden huts attached to the gymnasium block and the four concrete HORSA huts. The kitchen extension which jutted into the north playground from the north face of the listed Edwardian building was also removed. In addition the Caretaker’s house was converted into office accommodation at the school’s expense.
To celebrate these major developments, the governors commissioned a mosaic, set in the paving blocks of the quadrangle, from Rachel Fenner, a well-known local artist.
Around 1990, the LEA opened up a debate about the admission arrangements in Portsmouth and it was decided to make Portsea Island one catchment area served by all the comprehensive schools, two of which had become grant-maintained. The strong links that Priory had formed with the five middle schools in its former catchment area were continued by their designation by the governors as “historically linked” for purposes of admission. As well as sustaining liaison with those schools, the move was intended to give maximum opportunity to those families that were most disadvantaged in access to the overcrowded schools, namely those living in the extreme south-east of the Island.