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Education in Birżebbuġa

(The contents of this page and the following four pages are based on a research done by Mr Michael Balzia. They are being reproduced with his kind permission.  The ‘previous years’ photos were provided by Mr Arthur Grima.  Our sincere thanks go to these two gentlemen.)

Birzebbuga Primary School – 1916/1939

Up until 1916, children living in Birzebbuga had to attend either Ghaxaq or Zejtun School for their Primary Education, as no school had as yet been opened in this village. The first Mixed Primary School was officially opened on Sunday, 12th March 1916 upon the initiative and insistence of the first Parish Priest of Birzebbuga, Rev. Fr. Karm Bugelli. He also offered the premises, free of rent, for three years, till a more appropriate building was found.

At about 10.00, the Director of Elementary Schools Mr John Reynolds and Mrs Reynolds, together with School Inspector Mr Vincenzo Busuttil and Rev. Fr. Karm Bugelli, made their way from the Parish Church to the building in Zurrieq Road which was to house the new school. (The building has, since then, been demolished so that St. John Street would cross Zurrieq Road.)

School Inspector Ms Marietta Busuttil and the first Head of School Ms Maddalena Vassallo were there to welcome them. After the blessing of the school and the official opening, the whole delegation returned to the Parish Church (then dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows and now housing the boys’ MUSEUM Section in Church Street) for refreshments. By 18th March 1916, 36 boys and 28 girls were already admitted to the new school.

The school was made up of the Infant and Primary sections. During the first scholastic year, the school population amounted to 27 boys and 17 girls in the Infant Section and 27 boys and as many girls in the Primary Section. By the end of 1938 the number of children attending the school had risen to 146 boys and 124 girls in the Infant classes and 124 boys and 93 girls in the Primary classes.

Because of this rise in population, the first school had, by 1928, become too small to house everyone. So, on 26th June 1928 the Government took newly built premises in lease for 45 years. The owner of the premises – the then City of London Hotel – was Mr Antonio Zebra Scicluna and the Government Notary was Mr Calcedonio Gatt. This second school, comprising 6 classes and situated at 114, Pretty Bay (where the Sea Breeze Hotel stands today), started to be referred to as ‘the school down the bay’.

During this period, the Heads of School were as follows:

  • Ms Maddalena Vassallo (1916-1920)
  • Mr Giuseppe Agius (1920-1922)
  • Mr Alfredo Bonnici (1922-30)
  • Ms Veneranda Baldacchino (1930-32)

The first teacher from Birzebbuga who taught in the Primary School between 1929-1933 was Ms Giuseppa Zammit.

Birzebbuga Primary School – 1940/1946

When war broke out in Malta in June 1940 many schools, including the one in Birzebbuga, had to be closed down. Re-opening of schools had to be done with the utmost care. The safety of the children was an absolute priority and implied adequate shelters close to the schools.

Since it was inadvisable to have many children under one roof, schooling was carried out in 3 different buildings by 1943:

  • At the Nuns’ Convent at 3, Curate Fenech Street,
  • In a house at 9, Curate Fenech Street, which the Government had rented from Joseph Vella from Rabat,
  • In two rooms in the sacristy of the Church, which the Parish Priest Rev. Fr. Angelo Fenech had lent to the Government for this purpose.

Sister G. Antida Busuttil and Sister Euphrosina Briffa were amongst the Deputy Heads of School during those years of hardship. Since Birzebbuga was considered as one of the most heavily bombed and uninhabitable places during the war, the teachers were given travelling compensation.

By 1943 the fury of the war had abated. On 1st September, the Royal Air Force gave the ‘school down the bay’ back to the Education authorities, after this had been taken over by the British Services on 10th March 1941. But it wasn’t long before the school had, once again, become too small for the number of children it had to accommodate.

On 17th December 1945 the Royal Air Force authorities passed on the lease of a building at 91, Pretty Bay to the Education Department. This building, situated between the ‘Claridge Hotel’ and the ‘Red House’, had served as a store during the war and been known as the ‘Hal Far Barracks Store’. (Today, a block of apartments stands where the school used to be).

The premises started functioning as a school on 9th October 1946 and comprised six classrooms, which were taken up by the boys of primary age. This school took the name of Birzebbuga Boys’ Primary School and its first Head was Mr Joseph Mifsud Bonnici. The girls and infants stayed on at 114, Pretty Bay, which school started to be known as Birzebbuga Girls’ Primary School.

Boys’ Primary School – 1946/1956

The school was consecrated to The Blessed Heart of Jesus and The Immaculate Heart of Mary on 4th July 1947.

Mons. Michael Gonzi, Archbishop of Malta, visited it on 19th April 1947 as part of his Pastoral Visit in Birzebbuga. His second visit to the school was on 5th June 1956. The Governor General Sir Gerald Creasy and Lady Creasy also paid a visit to the school on 20th November 1950.

On 15th September 1948, Mr Reginald Vella Tomlin became the next Head of School. Under his headship, the school started issuing ‘The Hawk’ on 9th April 1953 and he also composed the first school anthem, ‘Innu ghat-Tfal ta’ Birzebbuga’, in 1958.

The village population continued to rise steadily, as did the number of children attending school. On 27th April 1955 the Director of Education visited the premises and showed his intent to rent a building that would serve as an annexe to the existing school. On 2nd September 1955 Mr Vella Tomlin was given the keys of a building, then known as the ‘Smiling Prince’, at 20/21, Pretty Bay (where the Malta Labour Party Club stands today)

A few weeks later, on 3rd October 1955, the school passed under a new Head – Mr Salvu Farrugia. He had 16 classes under his care -10 primary and 6 infant classes. The main school building accommodated 9 of them and the annexe 7.

Girls’ Primary School – 1946/1958

The girls’ school followed the same pattern as that of the boys, where administration in general and visits by prominent people were concerned.

In 1955 the school consisted of 15 classes: 14 of them were housed in the main building and the other one, with 22 pupils in it, in a room at 39, Zebra Street, within a stone’s throw of the school.

A problem, which had been felt for quite a long time, was the distance that a number of children living in Benghisa had to walk everyday, to and from school. The Heads of School and Mr Gaetano Cauchi, School Inspector, discussed this on 15th March 1951 and tried to solve the problem. The difference in the children’s ages and their rather small number made it impracticable to open a school in that periphery. At long last, the problem was solved on 18th February 1965 when a decision to provide the children with free school transport was taken.

The Heads of School after the war were as follows:

  • Ms Amelia M. Agius Gerada (till1949)
  • Ms Nellie Jones (1949-1952)
  • Ms Mary Spiteri Fiteni (1952-1958)

Birzebbuga Primary School – 1956/2006

Due to the fact that the Primary Schools in Birzebbuga had, by the 1950’s, become too small and fragmented, the authorities decided that it was time to build a new school – one that would be big enough to house them both. St. Michael Street, St. Catherine Street and Church Street bordered the chosen site on three sides. (Zaren Dalli Street, bordering its fourth side, had still not been built.)

The architect who drew the plans for the new school was Joseph Borg Grech, A.&C.E. The whole complex was to contain three two-storey blocks of twelve classrooms each, a large hall complete with stage and dressing room, a gymnasium, and several corridors adjoining all three blocks and hall. Four very spacious yards were to separate the blocks.

The first five classes to move into the new school on 21st September 1956, were the boys from 91, Pretty Bay. The latter premises, together with the infant classes from the boys’ school, started to form part of the girls’ school on 1st October 1956. The boys’ school was, at the time, made up of 12 classes – 5 in the new school and 7 at the ‘Smiling Prince’. A year later, on 16th September 1957, the remaining 7 classes moved into the new school and the ‘Smiling Prince’ was vacated.

The girls still attended the schools in Pretty Bay but, on 6th November 1958, a big storm did considerable damage to both the ‘school down the bay’ and the ‘red house’ and the children were panic-stricken. The school premises were declared habitable and free of danger but the parents’ pleas for their children to move out of the schools were too strong. Just two days later the girls’ moving into the new school began. The first Eucharistic Day in the new school was held on 30th April 1959.

The two schools started to be administered separately but in the same complex. The Boys’ School comprised the Primary classes from Standard 1 to 6 and the Girls’ School comprised the Infant classes, Stages 1 and 2, and the Primary classes from Standard 1 to 6. At that time, children finished their Primary Education at about 14 years of age. When the Kindergarten classes were introduced in 1975, they too started to form part of the Girls’ School.

In 1974, part of the school premises were taken up to start accommodating a Boys’ Trade School, where Woodwork, Automobile Engineering and Electrical Installation were taught. The school hall was also taken up by the Trade School to be used as a workshop and the stage as a store. After a time, the Trade school population started dwindling constantly until, in June 1983, it was shut down. The school hall was renovated by a group of volunteers and officially opened by Prime Minister Dr Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici on 28th May 1985.

The same block was once again taken up to start housing a Girls’ Trade School in 1985. This time, the school hall continued to serve its original function. In Scholastic Year 1988/89 the school took the name of Mons. M. Azzopardi Girls’ Trade School, but it too was shut down in 1992.

From Scholastic Year 1980/81 the current Primary Schools’ format was introduced, whereby classes started to be mixed and the children began their Secondary Education after Year 6 at about 11 years of age. The Girls’ School took the name of School A and started to cater for the Kindergarten classes and Years 1, 2 and 3. The Boys’ School started to be known as School B and caters for Years 4, 5 and 6.

The Heads of School during this period were as follows:

Girls’ School/School A

  • Ms Gracie Zammit (1958-1961)
  • Ms Josephine Ellul (1961-1984)
  • Ms Katy Abela (1984-1989)
  • Mr Emanuel Ph. Attard (Acting Head)
  • Mr Charles Debono (1990-2004)
  • Ms Catherine Spiteri (2004- )

Boys’ School/School B

  •  Mr Reginald Vella Tomlin (1948-1955)
  • Mr Salvu Farrugia (1955-1956)
  • Mr Reginald Vella Tomlin (1956-1963)
  • Mr Anton Agius Muscat (Acting Head)
  • Mr Joseph Micallef Azzopardi (1964-1978)
  • Mr Victor Borg Busuttil (1978-1979)
  • Mr Anton Agius Muscat (1979-1982)
  • Mr Hugh Mercieca (1982-1984)
  • Mr Carmel Ellul (1984-1989)
  • Mr Alfred Zammit (1989-1991)
  • Mr Emanuel Ph. Attard (1991-1992)
  • Mr Theo Degiorgio (1992-1994)
  • Mr Louis Portelli (1994-1997)
  • Ms Antoinette Psaila (Acting Head)
  • Ms Lina Caruana (1998-2000)
  • Mr Emanuel Grech (2000-2003)
  • Mr Oreste Mifsud (2003-2005)
  • Mr John Zammit (Acting Head)
  • Ms Miriam Mallia (Acting Head)
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