School chooses name of local historical figure as the new name for their school

A secondary school in Tameside, Greater Manchester has chosen to commemorate the life and work of a local 19th Century reformer and educationalist, Joseph Rayner Stephens, by renaming itself as Rayner Stephens High School.

Currently known as Astley Sports College, the school, situated on Yew Tree Lane in Dukinfield, is undergoing a massive transformation. The school is also converting to academy status during the summer term and will be joining the newly established AspirePlus Multi Academy Trust along with Longdendale High School. School leaders and governors felt that the recent changes presented the perfect opportunity to rebrand the school and forge a new identity.

Matthew Bowler, Executive Headteacher said ‘the name Rayner Stephens, whilst sounding traditional, is very distinctive, unique and importantly for us, is local. It represents a significant point of difference with the current name and will definitely support the change of culture that we are defining. The opportunity to reinforce our core values within school are fully supported by this name change.’ Fay Beach, Headteacher said that ‘teaching staff will seek to utilise the name to full effect in the curriculum and beyond, developing local history curriculum studies, local geography units and enrichment visits. They will use the life of Stephens to demonstrate the school’s ASPIRE core values and make sure that it informs who we are as a school community.’

Stephens was a great local man, who worked tirelessly on behalf of the community; he is definitely worthy of remembrance. During his life, Stephens (1805 – 1879) worked as the champion of working people in the local area. He was a man of ideas always guided by his deep and strongly held values. He had a strong impact locally, leading resistance to unfair working practices and poor working conditions.

Stephens’ first employment was as a school teacher. He later became a preacher and in 1832 was appointed to Ashton-under-Lyne. Alongside other famous reformers of the day, Stephens argued for the 10-hour bill, this was to shorten the hours of labour in cotton mills to 10 hours per day rather than the customary 15 hours and he opposed the ‘Poor Law’ which forced children into factories.

Later, Stephens became involved in the Chartist political movement, which demanded a charter of rights and economic reform. His Chartist speeches are quite famous and he travelled nationally attracting audiences of up to twenty thousand people. At the height of his influence, local magistrates ordered his arrest for attending and speaking at an unlawful meeting at Hyde in November 1838. Found guilty, he was jailed in Chester Castle for eighteen months. Nevertheless, he stayed true to his beliefs and continued his work upon his release and through until his final days.

Amongst his later achievements, he founded the Ashton Chronicle in 1848 and opened a People’s School for the poor in Stalybridge. In 1857 also opened locally the People’s School for Adult Education. He died in February 1879 and was laid to rest at St. John’s Church, Dukinfield. The inscription on his grave reads ‘he hath done what he could’. A blue plaque to commemorate Joseph Rayner Stephens is sited on Stalybridge Town Hall and there is a memorial monument in Stamford Park, Ashton-under-Lyne.

If you have any artefacts or writings related to Joseph Rayner Stephens the school would love to hear from you, please contact them at the school.

Telephone: 0161 338 2374