Originally, there were two grammar schools, the Cowley Girls’ Secondary Grammar School (also known as the Cowley Girls’ School) with around 650 girls, and Cowley Boys’ Secondary Grammar School (also known as Cowley School) with around 550 boys. In 1965, the St Helens Education Committee council introduced proposals for comprehensive education.
The comprehensive plans took effect in September 1970 with each school becoming a 13-18 single sex comprehensive school – the Cowley Boys’ School and Cowley Girls’ School which soon became 11-18 schools in 1974 with around 700 at each school. For a short time from 1976-8, these schools were the Cowley High School for Boys and the Cowley High School for Girls. By 1978 it had become the Cowley High School with around 1,400 boys and girls.
In 2001, Cowley gained Language College specialist status and changed its name to Cowley Language College. After achieving International School status in 2010, the college changed its name to Cowley International College.
The college benefited from a £23m BSF funded redevelopment, with a new building for the 11-16 site opened in October 2009 by Ed Balls, the then Secretary of State for Education. The state of the art Sixth Form which opened to students in September 2010 is on the original site in the refurbished
Many known individuals have been educated at Cowley. Among the most distinguished are Professor John Fairclough, Professor Theo Barker, Norman Cook CBE, Editor from 1978-79 of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo and Ray French, BBC rugby league commentator, who also taught at the school.
The changing rooms at the boys’ school, and the gym at the girls’ school were used as locations for the 1981 film Chariots of Fire.