The esteemed 124-year-old New England institution, The Armidale School, has joined a worldwide trend to change from a single-sex boys’ school to a fully co-educational school.

Story Ken Eastwood

When Murray Guest, principal of the 124-year-old all-boys The Armidale School (TAS), decided to enrol girls into every aspect of the school – from the boarding program to cadets – he expected some opposition. “There was an oppositional element, and that didn’t come from the more senior old boys, but the younger old boys and current parents of boarders,” he says. “But the surprising thing was that the entire staff was 100 percent behind it.”

The introduction of girls across all years occurred at the beginning of 2016, after two years of research. Almost two years later, Murray is delighted with the results. “All I’m hearing now are the positive comments,” he says. “The fact it’s been the success it has made it very difficult to take an opposing stance.”

In 2015, the school had 550 students, 200 of whom were boarders. By the end of 2017 it had 640 students – the highest ever number of students – with 130 girls enrolled and 40 boarding. At the start of 2018 a new female boarding house will open, with space for an additional 65 girls. “One of the surprises was that we found a lot of interest from families with girls and boys – not just because they could have both children in the one school, but there were many who didn’t want to send their son to a single-sex school,” Murray says.

He says there is a worldwide trend away from single-sex schools, led by the United Kingdom, which was once renowned as the home of single-sex boarding schools. “The conclusion of the academic literature, which is extensive and growing all the time, is overwhelmingly that there is no distinction between quality of outcomes between co-educational and single-sex schools, whether you’re looking academically or at a whole host of social outcomes,” Murray says. “Over the past 20–25 years there’s been a flood of change from single-sex to co-ed. And the single major reason for it is to promote growth in the school. To be effective organisations, schools need to be bigger than they previously were, because of what they’re expected to offer now – pastoral care, outdoor education, sporting opportunities and so on.”

Other schools that have joined the trend since TAS made its announcement in May 2015 include Canberra Grammar School, Guildford Grammar School in Perth and Barker College in Sydney, which will be co-educational for all years from 2022. 

The first brother and sister to sign up to the new regime at TAS were Bonnie and Wally Bremner, of Inverell, northern New South Wales. Bonnie was recently elected as senior prefect for Year 12 in 2018. Wally will be in Year 11.

Their father Scott went to TAS, and their mother, Leanne, says there were plenty of strong reasons to send both the children there. “We really wanted to keep the children together because they’re really great mates,” Leanne says. “Obviously, they live in different houses, but they see so much of each other and they have so many mutual friends, which is really special.” 

This story excerpt is from Issue #116

Outback Magazine: December/January 2018