Hobart’s Eli Cropp is the product of Tasmania’s only public all-girls school and is now into her third year of studying medicine.
- Tasmania’s two single-sex public schools will become co-educational in 2022
- All-girls school Ogilvie, all-boys school New Town High and the inner-city Elizabeth College will likely merge into one school spread over three campuses
- Tasmanian parents seeking single-sex education will have to send their children to private schools
She believes the start she got at the single-sex Ogilvie High School set her up to succeed.
“One of the best things about my time at Ogilvie was, as a girl, I didn’t see any barriers to what women could become or go on to achieve,” she said.
“Girls could do physics, woodwork, football, without any social pressure.
“Ogilvie girls have gone on to become lawyers, politicians, Rhodes scholars.”
The Tasmanian Government’s announcement on Tuesday that Ogilvie would merge with all-boys New Town High School was greeted happily by some, but left others unconvinced about the merits.
“I hope this announcement doesn’t detract from a really proud legacy of educating girls,” Ms Cropp said.
But Ogilvie High School principal Duncan Groves believed his students were up to the challenge.
“There’s going to be a mixed bag of emotions.
“You’ll get some people that will welcome the change and the opportunities that change will bring to the students but you will still have some members of the greater Hobart community that will mourn the loss of single-sex education in Hobart.”
Some of his students mourned the news.
“For me, it’s probably not something I’d really like because I feel really comfortable with all the girls,” one student told ABC Radio Hobart.
“I feel more positive with just the girls because at this age we kind of feel a bit nervous around the other gender,” another said.
The decision was given the thumbs up by many of the boys at New Town High.
“Sounds pretty exciting, bit of fun, new people and friends, a whole new environment,” said one.
“I think it’s really, really, really great. It mirrors society and needs to happen,” said another.
The move will mean parents wanting single-sex education for their children will now have to turn to the private sector.
Parents vented misgivings about the move on the ABC Hobart Facebook page.
“Terrible decision. Some courses have been combined for years, but some students do NOT do well in co-ed high schools. Shame,” posted Keitha Granville.
“These two schools do so well academically and sports wise that there really seems no reason to do this,” wrote Meghan Buregel.
“Not everyone can afford private schools,” said Carol Chapman.
But others were supportive.
“They are best to get used to the way life will be outside of school,” said Elizabeth Hollis.
Single-sex schools no longer a positive for girls
Associate Professor in Education Judith Gill said the long-standing argument that girls were more suited to single-sex schooling had become redundant.
“However, there have been a great many changes in the way our society works and the way younger people understand their roles.”
The Adelaide academic said many girls today relished learning alongside boys.
“After all, we’re going to see them graduate into a world in which girls may be put in managerial positions and be in charge of males as well as females … so learning a bit more about the other seems to be something that too often in single-sex environments gets forgotten about.”
New Town High principal Dave Kilpatrick said single-sex classes were a possibility under the future model.
“If it makes more sense for girls to be doing physical education on their own or boys doing physical education on their own, then that might be part of the design,” he said.
Announcing the decision, Tasmania’s Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said more than 90 per cent of the greater Hobart community consulted were in favour.
It would alleviate pressure on an oversubscribed Taroona High School, he said, and neutralise the need for a costly new inner-city high school.
A report commissioned by the Government outlined an increased push across Australia for boys to learn alongside girls.
It acknowledged all-girls schools were “still considered beneficial in terms of confidence and participation” but that the trend was “for parents to seek co-educational options for their boys”.
The report also detailed the notion of a “dream school” in which Ogilvie, New Town and Elizabeth College, in the city, would operate as one school with three campuses — one for grades 7 and 8, another for grades 9 and 10, and the current college campus to continue catering to years 11 and 12.
The Government has allocated $150,000 in the 2020-21 State Budget for the development of a masterplan.
President of the Tasmanian Association of State School Organisations Jared Dickason said merging the schools, rather than building a new one, was the right move.
“At the end of the day, there’s only so much money that can be put into education and if we continue to put it into bricks and mortar, are we actually putting it into education?”
Caution urged in transition
Ogilvie High School was opened in 1937 as the New Town Commercial High School and taught both boys and girls.
In 1963 it became an all-girls school.
“The idea was to make sure that girls in the public sector had access to that single-sex education,” said Tasmanian independent MP Madeleine Ogilvie, whose great-uncle founded the school.
She said it should be a cautious transition.
“I think it’s really important we recognise there is a demand for education in Hobart that’s unmet,” she said.
“We’ve got Taroona full as a boot, we’ve got Mt Nelson Primary which has doubled in size … and I’m all for using existing assets.
“What we need to do is make sure there are no negative impacts on women’s education.”