The North Herts Secondary Centre was established in 1976/77 when Brian Frederick (Divisional Education Officer) became concerned about the lack of provision for disaffected young people in the 14-16 age range who were out of school and difficult to place.
Following consultation with the Secondary Headteachers it was decided to set up the Centre. This was housed in the Hitchin Youth Centre Building in Walsworth Road Hitchin that was owned by the Hitchin Youth Trust but organised by the Local Authority.
Sally Zoltowski was appointed teacher in charge with support of one other teacher. The Secondary Centre was given a cupboard as all teaching materials had to be locked up as the Youth Club met at night. The Centre opened with 4 young people well known to schools and Social Services. The tuition was supported by work experience and a link with the College.
There was the opportunity for the Secondary Centre to have their own premises when the Teachers Centre in Gernon Road moved to the former Fearnhill School Building (Old Grammar School) on the Broadway Letchworth. This happened at the end of 1979 and the Secondary Centre considered themselves in "heaven" with their own kitchen facilities and a base for activities.
The teaching room consisted of one large room, with tables round the side. Each corner was designated as a different "classroom". There was no formal timetable as such. Students would move from corner to corner or stay with a particular teacher all day, depending on relationships and their individual timetable. Each student had an individual timetable which was discussed with the staff and students.
The Divisional Education Office was coming to an end with restructuring of the County Education Service. The Council now declared they wanted their hut back and the hunt was on for new premises. The Children’s Home at Briar Patch had been empty for two or three years and as there was a shortage of other suitable buildings the Centre moved into their new premises in 1992.
A Management Committee was formed including: Fred Peacock who worked tirelessly in the background for the Centre; Rhona Tutt, Head of a local special school; Sally Edwards, the head of Hitchin Girls School; John Legg from the Priory School; and some officers from County Hall. This gave the Centre some representation across the board. At this stage the Education Welfare Service became involved and Martin Greenwood sat on the majority of Admission Panels until the end of 2002 when he retired, he also served on the Management Committee for ten years. This had a very positive effect on the running of the Centre within the County structure.
The number on roll was nominally up to 40, but a limit was set at 30 due to the size of the building and students were limited to those from North Herts and Stevenage.
Students and teachers could now move forward with the qualifications they were achieving, such as the Unit Award scheme and some modular GCSE’s
Life at Briar Patch, The Secondary Centre was extremely fulfilling. With approximately 32 students, 8 students in four groups and one teacher per group we were kept busy.
At the end of 1997 Julie Vernon-Hamilton became the head teacher.
This was a time of rapid change with the introduction of Ofsted and the development of Education Support Centres right across Hertfordshire, The Secondary Centre became ‘North Herts Education Support Centre’ and thanks to the successful leadership of the staff has significantly progressed and has always been held in high esteem by local schools.
A formal curriculum was introduced with timetabled lessons. We still had Afternoon options where students chose what they wanted to take part in but the Mornings were run more like a school. Referrals came mainly from the mainstream schools, including those in Stevenage, and went before a panel which included the Head Teacher and at least one of the Management Committee.
The first OFSTED came and went successfully to the relief of all. Julie worked hard to secure funding for a large classroom extension, to become the new science/art room, which became the largest room in the Centre. In fact Julie was the driving force behind not only this extension, but a new one to the front of the building for a true office space for the admin staff and one to the back of the building for the teaching staff.
The Centre was still a very small tight knit unit, though a great many changes to personnel and curriculum had been made.
2007 saw the development of the Centre and the Youth Programmes Unit being brought together under one roof at the Bancroft site in Hitchin. The YPU now became more formalised and developed into a vocational unit including hair-dressing, catering and construction, alongside some classroom based subjects such as Maths and English.
Now the Centre had two different identities, one vocational and one academic. Staff moved between the two sites, as did the students on particular days for PE for example or for a taste of a different program.
A new Community Cohesion initiative was set up with the aim of getting the different vocational students out in to the local community and using their learnt skills to help others. This was particularly successful with the Catering department hosting ‘tea’ afternoons and the Construction department working at junior schools in Letchworth to rebuild and improve outside play areas of the school buildings.
The Centre was also able to successfully apply for a small grant to start the “Let’s Get Cooking” programme; a session run by the Catering Team involving parents coming in to the Centre on Friday Afternoons to take part in cooking healthy meals.
2011 saw further growth to the Centre as the Bridge 29 provision opened its door to the local Looked After Children - a mostly therapeutic programme aimed at supporting young people from Children's Homes back in to education.
2012 saw the inaugural year of the NHESC Key Stage 3 provision; a new building on Briar Patch Lane was acquired and refurbished to become its own 'mini-centre' unit to allow Key Stage 3 students to access respite under a pastoral/curriculum based programme.
2012 also saw the conception of the joint NHESC/Brandles provision 'Alternative Solutions' - a purely 1:1 programme working with the most complex and challenging students who's needs cannot be met in mainstream, special schools or ESCs.