A Tale of Four Principals

Never One Not to Rise to a Challenge!

It’s 1947, and picture if you will a semi-detached house in Kiln Lane, St. Helens called ‘Merlewood’.

Gathered around the table after a family meal are a dozen or so members of the Oxley and Cholerton families including the recently married Charles and Muriel Oxley. With this group of people, lively discussion was always guaranteed. And, on this afternoon, they were discussing which school they should send the youngest members of the clan to. Heated debate ensued about the various merits of the schools available in the area. However, the disadvantages always seemed to outweigh the advantages. Cowley was an outstanding school but the children were a long way off from secondary school. Charles was perhaps the most vocal in his disapproval of the local primary schools – so much so that it prompted Muriel to say:

“Charlie, if you’re so concerned about the quality of the children’s schooling, why don’t you start your own school?

Well, never one not to rise to a challenge, Charles replied: “I might just do that!”

Despite vociferous objections from many members of the family such as:

“A private school in St. Helens. You must be mad. That’ll never work.”

Charles set about finding a suitable building to house his new school.

1948 - Tower College is Purchased

In 1948, thanks to Auntie Norah offering up the deeds of her property as a deposit, Charles and Muriel Oxley bought Tower College, a building which had previously been owned by the well-to-do Baxter family. The only problem was that the building was not in a fit state to be a school; it had fallen into rack and ruin after the Baxter’s had vacated it during the war.  There weren’t even any floors to walk on!

There was so much work to do and Charles had to return to Egypt to serve out his notice in a school in Alexandria. The budget was tight, and it was up to Muriel to bring the building up to standard. Charles returned from Egypt and both worked long long hours to get the school ready and despite all the obstacles, on the 6th April 1948, Charles as Principal and Muriel as Bursar opened the doors to the first and only independent school in the metropolitan borough of St. Helens.

And so, Tower College began its journey… and from the very start it was obvious that this was no ordinary school. The co-founders, Charles and Muriel were driven by a love for God and passion to defend Godly principles in Britain. Their school was to be a reflection of their traditional Christian values and Tower soon built a strong reputation for providing an education of high academic standards, where children learn the benefits of adherence to hard work and excellent conduct.

Principled Principal

Charles interviewed all the staff himself to make absolutely sure that any teacher being privileged enough to be employed at Tower College would be dedicated to the success, happiness and well-being of the pupils; that they would lead by example and encourage the children to be tolerant and compassionate towards one another and especially to care for the younger children.

He was insistent that excellent behaviour, smart dress and thinking of others before oneself were the cornerstones of a successful school and essential if pupils were to grow into being responsible and upstanding members of society. He knew that if staff paid attention to the smaller indiscretions, then the greater misdemeanours would never happen. Some considered him extreme in his zero-tolerance attitude towards bullying, telling lies, stealing, vandalism and swearing. But, those at Tower College knew that this was the perfect platform on which to build a school and very soon parents were on waiting lists trying to get their sons and daughters into the school.

Charles and Muriel also laid special emphasis on the spiritual aspect of the Christian education provided. They were astute enough not to affiliate the school to any denomination, and to invite pupils of all faiths or none on the understanding that they would participate in Morning Assemblies and all Religious Studies lessons. Pupils were expected to show tolerance and respect for each other’s faiths, and kindness and courtesy in all aspects of school life.

1987 - Muriel Oxley takes the helm

Tower College went from strength to strength and such was the success of the school that Charles and Muriel were able to open two new schools: Scarisbrick Hall in Ormskirk (1963) and Hamilton College in Scotland (1983) And, all continued happily until 1986 when Charles was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away in November 1987.

Without Charles, many people thought that Tower College would either not survive at all or at the very least would become an entirely different school. Muriel Oxley, however, had other ideas and though she was reluctant to assume the role of Principal, she knew that if the school were to maintain its values then she would have to be the next Principal. Muriel, despite her limited experience, turned out to be an outstanding leader and Tower College continued being just as successful until her untimely passing in December 1993.

1993 - Rachel Oxley Continues the Success Story

Enter Miss Rachel Oxley, Charles and Muriel’s youngest child and only daughter. Rachel was at the time of her mother’s death Head of the Kindergarten Department at Scarisbrick Hall and no one doubted for a second that under her leadership, Tower College was in the safest of hands. Why was this? It was because the school was being passed onto someone who was the very embodiment of the values and beliefs that the school had been founded on.

But, unlike her mother before her, there were very different challenges facing the school and fortunately Rachel had the necessary qualities to ensure that the school met these challenges without sacrificing any of its core values. The school had to evolve but Rachel knew that it must never ever move away from the values that were set down in 1948.

Tower became even more successful – topping the GCSE league tables year after year and having waiting lists for every year group. The ISI inspection report of 19?? confirmed that Tower College was continuing to be everything that it set out to be in 1948.  It said:

 ‘The relationship between staff and pupils, based on mutual respect and trust, is excellent, and pupils clearly feel safe, secure and happy in their lessons. This enriching relationship contributes greatly to the positive learning environment that pervades the school.’ 

Ms Bingley to Ensure Continuity

As much as Rachel loved (and still loves) the School, the life of a Principal takes its toll and she was due a well-earned retirement. She was also very aware of the upcoming challenges that Tower College would face and if it were to survive, then a new Principal would have to be found to meet these challenges head on. And, most crucially, a Principal who would still allow the school to change and move forward without moving one iota away from the values that she and her parents had built the School upon.

How do I know this? Because Miss Oxley delayed her retirement for one whole year to ensure that the new Principal would be perfectly placed to be the best possible custodian of the values that she and her parents had dedicated themselves to maintaining in Tower College.

So, after several months of shadowing Miss Oxley, in September 2018, I was honoured to become the fourth Principal of Tower College.  And I can assure you that all that Miss Oxley and her parents hold dear will be safe in my hands too.

You may well be thinking to yourself – why is Ms Bingley going on so much about these values! Well, it’s because our values inform our thoughts, words and actions. They help us to grow and develop and they help us to create the future we want to experience.

Every one of us in this school, both staff and pupils, is involved in making hundreds of decisions every day. The decisions we make are a reflection of our values and beliefs. You could not possibly have a better set of values on which to base your decisions than those set down in 1948 by Charles and Muriel and then continued faithfully by their daughter.

The debt we all owe to Charles, Muriel and Rachel is immeasurable and we owe it to them and ourselves to never lose sight of these values.

If any of you are in any doubt as to the truth of what I have said today then hopefully the two short extracts that I’m about to read out from two former pupils will convince you to stay as close as you possibly can to the values of Tower College.

The two extracts are from letters written to Miss Oxley in 2012

Extract 1 

Since I was very small, there have been two firm constants that have run through my life, influencing me and moulding me into the person I am today. Firstly, my family, without which I could not have hoped to achieve everything I have so far- be it academically, musically or even socially. However, the other is Tower College. The very fact that I can class your school in the same category as my family conveys, I hope, how important I feel it has been in my development as a person. The idea that I can hardly remember life before Tower College is one of strange comfort for me, knowing I have always had that place, my second home if you like, to go to learn in such a happy and caring environment. 

Tower College has taught me many things, be it spelling, reading, addition or subtraction, but the other lessons I have learnt here cannot be proven by any certificate or qualification. How to be kind, polite, and courteous; how to respect others and their feelings. If anyone ever asks me about nearby schools, there is only one at the top of my list.

Extract 2

Thank you for everything you have done for me over the past thirteen years, not least in choosing me to be Head Boy. It has been a great privilege to represent you and the school on so many wonderful occasions. I find it hard to believe how much confidence I have now from when I started, and now feel that I can succeed in anything I do as long as I try hard enough. 

I would also like to say that Tower College has given me the best possible platform for my future and allowed me to develop as a responsible and thinking person. I have no doubts whatsoever that there in no other school quite like Tower College and this is entirely due to your dedication to provide the best possible all-round education and code of behaviour for all your children.

 Please never hesitate to contact me if you need any assistance in any matter- I will be only too pleased to help. 

I will never forget what Tower College has done for me and I will always remember the kindness you have shown me. I think it is safe to say I have left Tower College a very happy bunny.

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