St Sidwell’s School, the first Parish School in Exeter, dates back to 1665, when it was established by the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral in a small schoolroom in the churchyard of St Sidwell’s Parish Church. There were several benefactors, including the Rev. John Bury, father of the Rector of Exeter College, Oxford. The school was founded to impart Christian education according to the beliefs and practices of the Church of England. Today it is a Voluntary Aided Church of England School, maintained by the Local Authority and although it is still first and foremost a Church of England school, its pupils are of many faiths.
The school was relocated a number of times but has been on the present site since 1853. By the 1900s St. Sidwell’s was a school ahead of its time, teaching French, shorthand and typing. The City Football Team was previously called St. Sidwell’s Old Boys. The Bishop of Exeter opened new classrooms in 1973 for the Combined First and Middle Schools. The Nursery was opened in 1988. The school became a Primary school during re-organisation in Exeter in 2005 and now caters for children from 3-11. The old school is the setting for many children’s books by the author Gene Kemp, who taught here in the 1970s. Her stories make use of the rich variety of backgrounds of the school’s pupils, some of whose family surnames feature in the earliest recorded history of Exeter. Today, St. Sidwell’s welcomes families from all over the world - some are postgraduate students or lecturers at the university; others come on a more permanent basis to work in the city centre. The school was extended at various times but it was becoming costly to maintain and increasingly unfit for education in the 21st century and was finally demolished in August 2006. Governors were delighted to receive government funding for a brand new school, which was built between September 2005 and August 2006.
The new building offers superb accommodation that greatly enhances teaching and learning. Children have access to excellent ICT facilities, an attractive library, areas for cookery and creative work as well as comfortable, well-equipped classrooms. The bell, which was loved by many, has been retained from the old building and now has a new home in a purpose built bell tower by the school’s main entrance. It is still rung most days to signal the start and end of the school day!