Guildford set to go co-ed

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Bethany HiattCountryman
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Guildford Grammar School year 10 student Callum McAtee and his sister Isabella, who is in year three, on the day the traditional boys school announced it will move to full co-education.
Camera IconGuildford Grammar School year 10 student Callum McAtee and his sister Isabella, who is in year three, on the day the traditional boys school announced it will move to full co-education. Credit: Nic Ellis

Teenage girls will be able to enrol at prestigious private college Guildford Grammar School after more than 100 years of boys-only secondary education.

Headmaster Stephen Webber’s announcement the school would become fully co-educational from 2019 was greeted by cheers from students and teachers at an assembly last month.

Mr Webber said co-education would better prepare students for their lives beyond the classroom.

Guildford Grammar, the school of choice for many country-based families, spent 18 months reviewing research on co-education versus single-sex schooling.

Though the research was inconclusive on whether one system was better than the other for academic performance or social wellbeing, Mr Webber said some studies found co-education gave students an advantage once they finished school.

Guildford Grammar started in a billiards room at Woodbridge House in 1896, when wealthy pastoralist Charles Harper employed a tutor to teach his own and others’ children, including several girls.

It became a boys’ school four years later.

Mr Webber said the perception at that time was that boys and girls should be educated differently to prepare girls to be mothers and homemakers and boys for work.

“We have moved on in society where there is greater opportunity for both females and males,” he said. Guildford will start taking girls into Years 7, 8 and 11 from 2018 and boarding facilities will open to senior schoolgirls by 2020.

About 100 girls attend the Preparatory school up to Year 6 and Mr Webber said many parents were keen for their daughters to be able to continue.

He said there had been a trend in the Eastern States and the UK for single-sex schools to shift to co-educational models.

Feedback from schools which had made the switch was that very few boys opted to leave.

“Our parents choose the school first and foremost because it’s an outstanding school with high-quality teaching and good pastoral care,” he said.

Mr Webber said the school had considered the move previously, but decided now was the right time because enrolments were close to record levels, with 1180 students.

Heidi McAtee, whose son Callum, 15, is in Year 10, sent off a senior school enrolment application for his sister, Isabella, 9, in Year 3, as soon as she heard the news.

“It just makes sense,” she said.

Many parents who commented on the school’s Facebook page said they were disappointed because they had signed up for an all-boys education and believed they should have been given more notice of the changes, but others were pleased their daughters would have a chance to attend the school.

University of WA Dean of Education Helen Wildy said it was a courageous but important step.

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