The Full Story
The origins of Treetops School date back almost 100 years to 1930, when it was originally a school for ‘delicate’ children at a site in Rectory Road, Little Thurrock.
In 1960 the school moved from Rectory Road to The Elms in Dell Road, Grays. The Elms was originally a mansion set in extensive grounds and its former occupiers include the Seabrooke family, owners of a Grays brewery. Interestingly, next to The Elms was a house called The Dell, which was owned by a famous botanist, Alfred William Russell, who was associated with Charles Darwin in proposing the theory of evolution.
When a Mr Walsham, head of a building firm, acquired The Elms he built his family a new home on part of the land. The original building was taken over by Essex Education Committee and the Rectory Road school for delicate children moved in. A difficulty occurred when Mr Walsham called his new house “The Elms” also, so in 1960 permission was granted by the Minister of Education for a change of the school name from The Elms to Treetops.
Treetops’ first headteacher was Mr Edward Daynes who had previously taught at Faircross School in Barking, in the department for physically handicapped pupils. In the same building was the Faircross Special Needs School and a teacher in this department, Mrs Weddall, was appointed Deputy Head of Treetops. Another teacher from this school, Mr Perry Saunders was appointed teacher of the senior boys’ class and the woodwork and craft department.
A former teacher from the Faircross School, who had temporarily left to bring up a family, Mrs Joan Smith, was recruited for a junior mixed class and a Miss Brenda Wilds, an infant teacher was appointed for the admission class. Mrs Elizabeth Jenkins was appointed as School Nurse – a full time post. Children were kept under medical scrutiny and each Wednesday 6 children were seen by the visiting Doctor.
Owing to the limitations of the building the school was restricted to 75 pupils, and most of the children were conveyed there by coach as very few lived within walking distance. There was a resident caretaker who lived in a flat in the main building.
A separate building to the house, which had originally been the stable block, was altered to provide one large room or hall, suitable for P.E. or games and it was known as the Recreation Room. During the first year an area on the first floor was adapted for a classroom and there was also a woodwork room on the ground floor.
An area of the garden surrounding the buildings was cleared for a playground and at the bottom of the steep drive was a playing field.
During the six and a half years that the school occupied this building, midday meals were sent from a nearby school kitchen. Two ‘dinner ladies’ and two midday play supervisors were also in attendance part-time. On bad weather days, playtime was held in the Recreation Room.
Mrs Jenkins, the School nurse, decided to take a Teacher Training Course (at that time there were still 1 and 2 year courses) and eventually took over the infants class when Miss Wilds left the school.
Adjacent to the school was an old disused quarry, some 70ft deep which obviously had to be securely fenced off from the school area. Nevertheless, it was a source of many expeditions for small groups of children. It was lush with trees and vegetation and formed a habitat for many varieties of birds and animals. No doubt Mr Alfred Wallace paid many a visit in his time at The Dell.
A new purpose built school had been promised within 18 months of the opening of Treetops, however this did not materialise until six and a half years later. During the intervening years the severely overgrown gardens were gradually cleared by the two senior classes and their teachers and each child had his or her own plot. During the second year an outdoor swimming pool was added which could only be used in the summer term. Later on, after the new school was built, the gardens were asphalted to make playgrounds and the staff, parents and governors built housing for the swimming pool so that it could be used all year round.
In 1963 when Mr. Daynes the Headmaster was appointed to be a lecturer at the Maria Gray Training College, Mr. David Phillips was appointed Headmaster.
The new school was built in 2 sections- the first behind the old building in which the school carried on functioning. The classes were then transferred to the new section, the old building was knocked down and by July 1968 the second section was completed.
The new school incorporated more classrooms, a fully equipped cookery and domestic science room, an art/woodwork room and a large hall- in fact, as it was until the school moved in 2008. Thus, the numbers of children catered for was increased to 160.
Soon, a pre-school Nursery Unit for children with developmental problems in early infancy was opened in a demountable classroom. Later, when another of these became available it was used as a music centre. A separate Maths room was developed, largely through the efforts of staff, parents and governors, and this was later used as a computer room.
Mr. Phillips was appointed Inspector of Schools in Essex in 1974, and the deputy, Mrs Weddell, took over as headteacher until 1975, when Mr. Hopper was appointed. He was head for 13 years, followed by Mr. M. Smith, who was head until 1989 and Mr. Pardoe who was head from 1989 until 1998. Mr. P. Smith became headteacher in September 1998 and remained as head until August 2019. When the current headteacher, Mr J. Brewer took on the role.
While Mr P Smith was head, he worked with the Department for Education to establish a sister school for Treetops - Treetops Free School - which officially welcomed pupils into its new building in September 2022. Mr A. Hattam was appointed as Headteacher of Treetops Free School in April 2021.
In 2019 Mr P. Smith became the CEO of Treetops Learning Community to oversee both Treetops School and Treetops Free School.
Origins of Move from Dell Road to Buxton Road, 1998-2008
Thurrock became a unitary authority in April 1998.
In September of the same year, when a new (at the time) Head was appointed, each of the three special schools in existence at that time (Knightsmead, Woodacre and Treetops) were asked to express a declaration of interest in developing specialisms they wished to pursue. Knightsmead and Woodacre declared an interest in developing provision on the SLD/PMLD continuum. At Treetops, we expressed an interest in maintaining provision for young people with moderate learning difficulties whilst developing more specialised provision for pupils with autism, speech, language and communication difficulties and ADHD.
The result of this was that by 2002, numbers at the other two schools had diminished while places at Treetops were increasing year on year. It was decided, following public consultation exercises, to close Knightsmead and Woodacre schools and re-open them as one school – Beacon Hill.
The idea of a move to a purpose-built new school came from a cultural exchange trip made by the Head (Paul Smith) along with policeman Pat Mahoney and fire-fighter Dave Parrott to Essex, Connecticut, USA.
Whilst there, the Paul Smith visited specialist provision and was impressed with the space and facilities available. He was inspired to ensure our pupils received only the best.
On returning to England, meetings were arranged with local authority officers: Principal Educational Psychologist, Val Edmonds, and Special Needs Services Officer, Helon Hamilton.
Places at Treetops were at a premium (as they still are) and the school had been asked to develop across two sites – the old Treetops site in Dell Road and the old Knightsmead site in South Ockendon. Following a lengthy consultation period, the school agreed to work on two sites on condition that a new site was acquired and a new school built, which could accommodate all pupils on one site.
Treetops moved to its new site in Buxton Road in February 2008.
Grand opening ceremony by 2003 Rugby World Cup player, Jason Leonard (centre), Governor Alan Peaford (left) and Headteacher Paul Smith.
Since that time, the demand for places continued to grow to such an extent that the school needed more space. The only way of securing capital funding was to convert to become an academy, sponsor a Free School and establish our own Multi Academy Trust (MAT).
Treetops School converted to academy status in April 2017 and put in a bid to sponsor a Free School, which would offer an additional 140 places.
The Free School was built on the same site as Treetops and, after a year in temporary accommodation due to delays in the building process, finally opened in its new accommodation in September 2022.