NEVILLE Tate remembers a ministerial decree from Whitehall, numbered circular 10/65, ordering all local education authorities to abolish grammar schools and turn them into comprehensives. That policy, he said, was the catalyst that led to the creation of Yarm School.

"Whatever the intended merits, many parents believed their own educational preferences counted for little," he said.

"This was years before the introduction of league tables and academic accountability. It was an era when many local education authorities suppressed distinction and eliminated competition. Elitism was seen as a greater risk to society than benign pig-ignorance. Town hall mandarins selected which schools children attended, not parents," said Mr Tate, who lives at Eaglescliffe.

Many independently-governed but part-state funded grammar schools (known as direct grant schools) refused to participate in the destruction of their academic heritage, he added.

The result was that some fee-paying academic day schools remained, as an alternative to comprehensives.

In the Cleveland and Darliington areas, girls attended Teesside High or Polam Hall, while younger boys could attend Hurworth House Prep School. But there was no equivalent for older boys.

Boys' boarding schools were further away and many parents did not want their child to board. Additionally, boarding schools often did not accept long-distance day pupils.

Such was the educational environment which bred Cleveland Independent School Trust, the body of parents who were determined to open their own school.

"Our priceless asset was that posse of fierce, far-sighted and indomitable mothers. They saw a bleak educational future for their boys and were prepared to fight for their own school," said Mr Tate.

The group included Hazel Andrews and May Veitch, both of Marton; plus the late Jean Hunter, Penelope Blakeley, Olga Plahe, Janet Dale, Joan Carter and Ann Milburn.

Fathers included Donald Blakeley, David Carter, John Matthews, Frank Andrews, John Perks, Maurice Hutson and the late Richard Crosthwaite.

In early 1978, Cleveland County Council agreed to lease the derelict old Yarm Grammar School to the newly-formed trust.

Satisfying the need for a new grammar school required money. In 1978, a new secondary school cost about £500,000 (now the figure is nearer £20m). But Yarm School's founders had less than £1,000.

Donald Blakeley, now the governors' chairman, organised a press conference. It was an exciting occasion and the project was well received, said Mr Tate.

But the reality was less impressive.

"The buildings were bare and vandalised. We had an annual £12,000 rent but no money, books, furniture or staff. We had 12 possible students but boldly proclaimed we would open in September 1978 - a mere seven months away."

Parents who had boys too young for school were encouraged to deposit bonds in advance, as a guarantee of an eventual place. A small amount of working capital was built up.

Buildings were decorated and improved by volunteers, led by Hazel Andrews and May Veitch.

The new Yarm School opened on Thursday, September 14, with 60 boys. It had three classes of 11-year-olds and one for boys aged 12 and 13. There was little equipment, a muddy two-acre playing field and no track record or school traditions.

"I can still remember the first question asked of me by a pupil, Simon Ruck, on my first day as a headmaster. He asked what he'd be getting for dinner.

"It was a splendid, honest, down-to-earth question about one of life's great priorities, not some arcane inquiry. Relevance to life's great priorities is what education should be about."

Many pupils endured tedious train journeys from Saltburn, Darlington, Redcar and Hartlepool, or further away. And the school day was long. It did not finish until 5.15. One boy mistakenly caught a train to London. He contacted the school from a Kings' Cross telephone box, saying he might be late.

The school initially had four full-time staff, plus a part-time music teacher, secretary, handyman and two dinner ladies, who also cleaned, along with some boys. To boost early morale, a ski trip and expedition to Turkey were offered.

Mr Tate said: "Neither I nor the governors wanted Yarm School to become just another nice, or even excellent, private school. We were determined to create a grammar school and public school of national standing."

The school roll doubled in 1979 and again in 1980. More space was needed.

The Friarage building on the opposite side of The Spital was then part of a small estate owned by an engineering firm. But it came on the property market in 1980. The school had to raise £250,000 (£1.7m at today's values) within months.

Rival bids came from property developers and hotel owners. The Friarage and its grounds adjoin Yarm's buoyant High Street. However, the school raised the necessary money from parental covenants - and also bought land for sports fields.

"These were difficult and expensive tasks, given the exceptionally high land and property values in Yarm. The governors were astute and successful," Mr Tate emphasised.

Throughout the economic recession of the Eighties, which was especially severe in the industrial North-East, the school maintained steady growth.

By 1991, extra buildings went up at the Friarage, allowing plans for a new preparatory school at the old grammar school building.

"The founding of a second independent school, so soon after launching the first, showed the governors were extremely go-ahead," said Mr Tate.

The prep school opened in 1994 and Michael Abraham was its first headmaster.

Now, Yarm School has more than 900 pupils, both boys and girls after going co-educational .

Mr Tate said the most daunting challenges had been meeting self-imposed academic targets and gaining good public recognition.

"There were numerous disappointments along the way. As a new school without a track record, it was hard recruiting good staff and many posts attracted scant interest.

"Our first exam results were unimpressive. It seemed low expectations of pupils by some teachers was the root cause. So, drastic schemes of work were imposed with straightjacket rigidity. Nobody was spared from publicly-expressed observations when things were not up to scratch.

"There was a lot of improvement. By1985, our exam results were beginning to impress. Today, the school's academic results are consistently among the best in the region.

"However, over time, we attracted some wonderful people on which academic success was built, including Graham Sims, our first languages head. His standards of commitment and self-discipline have stayed with the school."

Another early difficulty involved overcoming barriers in competitive school sport, whereby independent schools were prevented from playing fixtures with local comprehensive schools.

Yarm School had no sporting tradition and the best coaches worked at schools where sport was strong. It struggled to hire PE coaches.

"The importance of successful school sport cannot be overestimated. The aura of achievement pervades all school life, including the exam hall."

He said the school now enjoyed strong success in rugby, hockey and rowing.

Change was continuous and Mr Tate praised current headmaster David Dunn for his work..

"To what extent our original objectives were achieved is for others to judge. Speaking for myself and for all who have worked at Yarm School, I claim no more than that we have tried hard and done our very best. It was adventure I wouldn't have missed for the world," he added.