The first school in Oldham was Oldham Grammar School which was founded in 1606 when James Asheton of Chadderton gave half an acre of land in Peter Street near Market Place for the erection of a school.
However, it wasnt until the late 18th century that education began to be provided for children of the lower classes in the form of Sunday schools. The first Sunday school in Oldham was established in 1783 and was held in Oldham Grammar School. This was followed by the founding of Sunday schools at St Margarets Chapel, Hollinwood in 1784, and at Royton in 1785.
Over the next fifty years a large number of Sunday schools were established in Oldham and district. They were cheap, and more importantly, did not interfere with work.
1833 - 1870
Following the election of the Reform Parliament in 1832, the Government passed the Factory Act of 1833 restricting the hours of child labour in factories and laid down that a child so employed must receive at least two hours schooling per day. In the same year Parliament voted £20,000 for educational purposes and the money was allocated mainly to the National Society for Church of England Schools (founded in 1811) and the British and Foreign Schools Society for Nonconformist Schools (founded in 1808). Schools founded by these societies became known as National schools and British schools respectively. This was followed in 1843 by a Bill which stated that factory children should only work half-time and that they should attend school at least three hours per day. By 1870 over 20 inspected public elementary schools had been established in Oldham and district.
There were other schools in Oldham during this period besides those of the National Society or the British and Foreign School Society. Private schools in Oldham had existed since the end of the 18th century. These were of varying quality from dame schools catering for the lower classes to academies for the more well-to-do. Many of the latter are listed in Trade Directories. Henshaws Blue Coat School was officially opened in 1834, founded by Thomas Henshaw who in his will of 1807 left £20,000 for the maintenance of a Blue Coat school.
School Boards, 1870 - 1903
In 1870 the first Elementary Education Act was passed which stipulated that there should be in every school district a sufficient amount of accommodation in public elementary schools for all children resident in that district. The duty of enforcing this regulation was charged upon a School Board to be elected in the district concerned. If the voluntary bodies such as the National and British schools failed to provide the necessary school places and suitable accommodation within a stipulated period, the School Board was empowered to build new elementary schools, the cost supplemented by a rate. Oldham School Board was established in 1871, Royton in 1879, and Chadderton in 1893. They were responsible for the erection of what became known as Board Schools.
Oldham School Board opened a School for the Deaf in 1890 and for the Blind in 1895; while special needs schools were established at Derker and Scottfield Schools in 1898, and also at Chaucer Street School. Evening Schools were established at many Board Schools from 1890 onwards.
Hulme Grammar School
Oldham Grammar School was forced to close in 1866. However, the Trustees, anxious to provide another school, applied to the Trustees of William Hulme's Charity, and consequently the Hulme Grammar Schools came into existence in 1887, with separate schools for boys and girls.
1904 - 1938
Under the Education Act of 1902 responsibility for education was transferred to county and county borough councils and the Town Council of Oldham became the Local Education Authority for Oldham. The Council appointed an Education Committee and on 1 January 1904 the School Board disappeared and the new Education Committee took its place. A similar Education Committee was established by Chadderton Urban District Council.
One of the most important opportunities under the Act was the development of secondary education. The Municipal High School also known as the East Oldham High School was opened in 1909 as a mixed, fee-paying, grammar school. It became a free school in 1924.
From 1917 Higher Standard Centres, later re-named Central Schools, were established, designed for those children who failed to obtain a scholarship to grammar school.
Other secondary schools were planned during the 1930s. Chadderton Grammar School, Broadway opened in 1930; and work was commenced on a new grammar school at Counthill which was interrupted by the Second World War.
School meals were provided in Oldham from 1904; and in 1905 the Medical Officer of Health was appointed Medical Officer to the Education Authority. Medical inspection of school children began in 1907 and a school clinic was opened in Gower Street, Oldham in 1910. Castleshaw Residential Sanatorium School was opened in 1916; a school dentist appointed in 1923; and the Strinesdale Open Air School opened in 1936.
After World War II
With the Education Act of 1944 secondary education became a statutory duty for authorities. Education in schools was divided into two branches primary education for children up to 11, and thereafter secondary education. The school leaving age was raised to fifteen and secondary education was reclassified into grammar, modern and technical. Entrance to the grammar or high schools was gained through the eleven-plus, the former senior elementary schools and the central schools were redesignated as modern schools, and a junior technical school was established. The latter was initially based at Ascroft Street but moved to Robin Hill in 1951 and then to the new Hathershaw Technical High School in 1954.
The movement for the abolition of selective entry to secondary schools led to the development of the comprehensive system, and in order to cater adequately for the new system new schools had to be constructed. Consequently, by 1966 when the comprehensive system was launched in Oldham there were seven comprehensive schools: Hollins, Counthill, Fitton Hill, Breeze Hill, Hathershaw, Bluecoat and Kaskenmoor.