As it looks ahead to this change, it is learning from the experience of fellow Catholic systemic school, Marist Catholic College Penshurst, which began taking girls four years ago and has had more success than it predicted.
Marist North Sydney is welcoming girls because the diocese felt there was no other Catholic high school option for girls in the area. At Penshurst, which was a Year 7 to Year 10 boys’ campus, it had been a case of change or close.
So Penshurst changed. It included girls, and began offering years 11 and 12.
Four years on, there is an equal number of girls and boys in years 7, 8 and 9, and total school numbers have grown from 400 to 900 next year. For the 2020 intake, there were 330 applications for 190 spots.
The first intake of girls – who are in Year 10 this year – was the only one in which boys outnumbered girls. “I think the first families that sent their girls here were probably very brave people,” Penshurst principal Ray Martin said.
In the lead-up to the first year of girls, teachers were offered exchanges with co-ed schools, so they could gain experience in teaching girls. ”A lot of people had a long experience of teaching Year 7 to Year 10 boys,” said Mr Martin.
“Never having taught a girl – for staff, that’s quite daunting. They’re slightly different, there’s different learning styles. Group work is much more easily achieved in an all-girls structure, than sometimes in a fully boys school.
“Co-ed you have mixed, and you tend to get a better blended learning model. Sometimes both boys and girls have to move out of their comfort zone.”
There was a new uniform designed, as there will be at Marist North Shore (“I’m willing to go out on the ledge and say yes to pants [for the girls],” Mr Duncan said). And the curriculum was tweaked, with more dance and a wider music program introduced.
“The quality of performance since we’ve gone co-ed – there’s a whole new standard,” Mr Martin said.
The girls in Year 10 were itching to take leadership positions in the school, said Mr Martin. But consideration is given to the Year 11 and Year 12 boys, who “probably feel a bit that the school is changing – looking behind them and there’s 700 co-ed kids”.
The Marist experience will attract attention further afield, too, as the Randwick community debates whether to turn Randwick Boys’ High School into a co-ed campus.
If Penshurst is any guide, Marist Catholic College North Shore has reason to be optimistic. “I think it’s brought great energy,” Mr Martin said.
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Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald