As Haywards Heath College reopens, an affectionate spotlight on the career of its first Principal...

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

Mid Sussex Times February 5 1982


End of an era for head

When a school master is invited out for a drink by ex-pupils he has caned, it must be a sign of his popularity.


This heartwarming experience happens regularly to Haywards Heath Sixth Form College principal, Mr E. C. C. “Ted” Wynter, aged 63 and one of the best known and respected men in Sussex education.


In April he retires after a lifetime of teaching, the last 20 years being at the college. Last week he sat in his office, immaculate in his black academic gown, and reminisced.


Educated at Lewes Grammar School, his roots in Sussex go deep. A gifted sportsman, he loved his school days and in 1937 went up to Oxford to read history.


DOUBLE BLUE

Mr "Ted" Wynter MC, MA and first head of Haywards Heath College

There his athletic ability lead to a double blue in boxing and rugby. Then the war interfered with his university career. He joined the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry - a Royal artillery unit - and saw action in North Africa and Italy.


He remembers seeing the surrender of 200,000 Germans in Tunis - a “magnificent experience” after the First Army’s push from the mountains.


In Italy he was decorated with the Military Cross for his part in an attack north of Arezzo. Modestly he refused to elaborate.


In 1945 - luck - his name pulled from a hat - took him back to England for the first time in three years. The 27 year old major walked around Oxford during his last week of leave and went to see his old principal at Saint Edmund Hall.


In those days the fashionable time to meet was at breakfast. So over a substantial English breakfast he was gradually persuaded to return to complete his degree.


Although Mr Wynter says he had not read a book for six years, within a week he found himself writing an essay on Aristotle. Remembering that period, a far away look crossed his face and he said: “It was the most superb time. There was this marvellous sense of freedom. Definitely one of the best times in my life.”


There were minor irritations. “Because we were so much older than usual and having been responsible for men's lives we didn't take kindly to being fined for being out late.” These were small problems, though, and from 1946 to 1948 he completed his history degree and then a Diploma in Education.


Mad keen on rugger, the big 14 stone four ex major waded into the ruck and his ability was soon noted. He played against New Zealand in 1946 and Australia in 1947.


Boxing also kept him from developing students stoop and writers cramp. The sport was more of a team game then, he said, with eight boxers making up the complement. He added that with 12 - ounce gloves little damage was done.


Leaving Oxford, Mr Wynter taught at Radley for a term before taking up a full time post at Dulwich College in 1948.


As a history teacher he was an instant success, bringing 20th century history to vibrant life. It was at this time he learnt that teachers are born, not made.


“One cannot create a teacher. There has to be something innate there. Unless you can inspire someone you will never be a teacher. Enthusiasm is infectious and so is dullness.”


After five years at Dulwich, he was appointed head of Midsomer Norton Grammar School, near Bath. During the years he was there - 1954 to 1962 - he saw the small school grow from 280 pupils to 580.


By some strange coincidence his predecessor at what was then Haywards heath Grammar School turned out to be Mr D. W. S. Jarvis, who had taught him at Lewes Grammar School as well as being his scoutmaster.


In 1962 Haywards Heath Grammar was the newest and last grammar school to be built in East Sussex. Ted Wynter, the new head, was just 43 years old, and best of all, back in Sussex.


During the next 20 years he has experienced something of a revolution in education, seeing the change from grammar to comprehensive and then to 6th form colleges.


He is not sure all the changes have been for the better. In a grammar school, he said, teachers had seven or eight years to get to know pupils and so were better able to help individuals.


ETHOS

By contrast, in the six form colleges students attend for either eight months – doing their own levels – or for 20 months doing A-levels. The problem arose on creating an ethos over such a limited time, he said.


Giving the college a “soul”, despite the fast turnover of students, and avoiding becoming a “transit camp” en route to work or university, has been his biggest task at the college. He feels he and his staff have achieved that goal.


With a total enrolment of 920 pupils, the college is one of the biggest in England – and still growing. Next September’s intake will see the figure rise to 1000. A big college by anyone's standards.


The reasons for the growth are only partly due to the job shortage, said Mr Wynter, the rising cost of private schooling, around £3000 per year, and the desire by many 16 year olds to make a change, brought more and more to the college doors every year.


In his time there, Ted Wynter has seen almost 5000 youngsters come and go. The grandson of a teacher and married to another history teacher – his wife, Margaret, teaches at a school in Steyning - teaching is a part of him.


Looking back over his life, he said he would not have wanted it any different. "I can't think of anything I'd rather have done. I would certainly have hated flogging up to London and the stock exchange every day, and the army as a career would rather have bored me.”


He is a man who sees something good in most things, and is the very opposite of doctrinaire in his approach to teaching. But on the issue of all schools going comprehensive, he is adamant.


TOTALITARIAN

"I think that closing the private schools would be a disaster. They've led the way in so many new approaches and introduced new syllabi. To destroy something good is totally wrong.


“I believe a man is entitled to spend his money the way he wants to. The closing of private schools in this country will mean we are on the way to a totalitarian system.”


Mr Wynter added that by this he did not mean that the maintained sector should be a second rate system.


How does he view the growing pressure on students to pass increasingly difficult exams? Smiling, he said; "when you begin as a teacher you are desperately keen to get good results. At the end of your career you are keener to get happy children, “


Much has changed during his time. He admitted that being a head 30 years ago was far easier than today, with pupils questioning everything.


"That in itself, though, was a sign that teachers were succeeding. "After all," he pointed out, "we are trying to make a student ask why.”


Despite the questioning, satisfactions of teaching are numerous. He described the pleasure of seeing early promise in students borne out, as they carried on with the subject at university.


Students’ athletic and sporting achievements give him great pleasure as well. He has a bias towards rugby naturally, being an ex president of the Sussex rugby union, and the county representative on the national rugby football union.


This makes him "Mr Rugby" in Sussex and the achievements of his pupils on the rugger ground brings a gleam to his eyes. Matthew Jellings, one of his boys, captained the England under 16 side and later played against the Australians. Many other boys fill the ranks of the Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill Rugby Clubs.


His involvement in the community included a stint as president of Haywards Heath Rotary Club in 1968 and 1969.


A survivor in more ways than one, he survived open heart surgery a few years ago. Today he is fit and well and sometimes walks 10 miles in a day.


Retirement will hardly be sedentary. A world tour planned for next year will take him to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to meet old rugby friends.


Once back in his Warninglid home, he will have a lot of on his plate – not least being membership of the Navy, Army and air force selection boards.


Then of course, there will be the telephone calls which begin: "Mr Wynter, you won't remember me, but once you caned the daylights out of me. Would you care to meet me for a drink?”


Article by Julian Roup for the Mid Sussex Times

Photograph by Mid Sussex Times


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