School Context

School History

The School is one of the oldest in the country. The exact date of foundation is not known, but we know that in 1326 a Chantry School was already established at the old castle of Hanley. At the time of the Reformation, Hanley re-emerged as a Grammar School, and we have a charter from 1544 in the reign of Henry VIII. In 1633 a new body of Trustees was appointed and in 1733 the school was re-built; these buildings (much modified) are still in use today.

The 1991 building programme considerably improved the facilities at the school and as a consequence of becoming a Specialist School for Languages we secured funding for a £2 million eight-classroom language and computing block which was opened in September 2008. Our magnificent new sixth form centre was opened in September 2016. Various additional building projects have expanded and enhanced facilities for performing arts, science, PE, humanities and maths departments. We have recently improved and enlarged dining facilities and student toilets.

College (House) System

The origins of our school can be traced back with some certainty to 1486, when it was given its own buildings and income. However, there is a suggestion that from as early as 1326 the chantry priest may have taught the children of the parish on or near our current school site.

The parish of Hanley (later to become Hanley Castle) has an ancient and fascinating history. Although there is evidence of a Roman fort by the river, and of a Roman temple on the site of the church, the first direct references to Hanlee have been found in two charters dated 962 and 972 A.D. At the time of the Norman Conquest (1066-1088) the area was over-run with trees and like all forests belonged to the King of England, who enjoyed exclusive hunting rights. However, within 50 years areas of the forest had been cleared and Hanley had grown into a thriving community.

The name Hanley comes from the old English han leah, meaning ‘high clearing’. We have named our new colleges after three major settlements within the forest, reflecting the ancient history of our unique community.

coll Gilbert Gilbert College
In the 12th century King Henry I gave the hunting rights of the forest to his son, Robert Fitzroy, 1st Earl of Gloucester. Because the rights had been given to a subject the forest became known as a chase. At this time the two main routes through the chase were named. It was around these routes that main settlements grew. The first, Gilbert’s End, was named after Gilbert de Hanley, chief forester between 1147 and 1165. The second was named after his son, Robert.
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coll Burley Burley College
The prestige of Hanley was strengthened at the beginning of the 13th century when King John built a castle in the parish. This was a large, square structure with four towers and a keep surrounded by a moat. It survived for 300 years, although more as a hunting lodge than a fortress. The high ground on which the castle was built was a settlement known as Burley, from the Anglo-Saxon burh leah, meaning ‘clearing near a fort’.
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coll Horton resize2 Horton College
King Edgar’s charter of 972 A.D. made reference to a clayey settlement in Hanley. The Anglo-Saxon for this settlement is horh tun from which the name Horton derives. The wide availability of clay in this area, along with a plentiful supply of trees for charcoal, led to a flourishing pottery industry in Hanley. This remained for 500 years from the 12th to 17th century, mainly along Roberts End where thousands of fragments of medieval pottery have recently been recovered.
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Although the exact origins of the school are lost in the mists of time, we can speculate about who founded the school.

Was it the foresters, who held high status and managed the early parish of Hanley?

Was it the people linked to the castle, and therefore linked to the monarch?

Was it the potters, master artists and craftsmen whose industry shaped our community?

Historians have yet to uncover the truth.
So, let our students compete for honour and pride through the colleges that they represent!

International Ethos


We encourage all our students to understand that they are part of an international community and impress on them their need to harbour respect and tolerance towards other cultures and nationalities. We highlight international themes across the curriculum and all subject areas are integral in creating an international environment. Across the school, trilingual signs emphasise to students that they belong to a school that embraces its European neighbours.

The school has a wide-ranging programme of visits, exchanges and international links. This includes an annual visit from a tutor group from China, who are welcomed as part of our school for the summer term.

Old Hancastrians

This Association exists for former students of the school who still want to keep in touch with each other. As an historic school, we still have former pupils from the 1930's who want to indulge their nostalgia!

The Association Secretary is always pleased to supply further information and can be contacted through the school.

On the first Saturday in July there is the Annual General Meeting in the School Library, followed by Dinner in the evening, which usually has an attendance of around fifty.

The Headteacher is President of the Association, and a member of the Association sits on the Governing Body of the School.

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