Falling numbers at all-girls state schools prompt calls for change

Enrolments at Victoria’s all-girls government secondary schools are in decline, with one large school’s student body shrinking by more than 20 per cent in five years, leading to community calls for it to accept boys.

Total enrolments at Victoria’s five all-girls non-selective government secondary schools fell 6. 66 per cent in the five years from 2016 to 2021, MySchool data shows. The drop occurred even as the overall number and proportion of girls in the state’s secondary schools grew solidly.

Overall, the proportion of girls attending a Victorian government secondary school rose from 55. 8 per cent to 56. 1 per cent in the five years to 2021, at the expense of Catholic schools.

Worst hit by the drift away from all-girls state education is Pascoe Vale Girls Secondary College, which shrunk by 21. 19 per cent in that period, from 1123 to 885 students.

Community group RISE is pressuring the Andrews government to as part of a broader education plan to reverse waning secondary school enrolments in Moreland’s north.

The group has just compiled the results of an online survey of 971 people, representing 1434 students in Moreland, just 4 per cent of whom said a single-sex model was important in selecting a secondary school for their children.

We actually want some evidence about why that girls’ single-sex model is still viable today, RISE spokeswoman Kate Lamont said.

But their call drew a sharp response from the Andrews government, with Education Minister James Merlino ruling out any proposal to alter the school’s single-sex status.

I want to make it absolutely clear that Pascoe Vale Girls’ Secondary College will remain a girls-only school, the minister told parliament last week.

Lizzie Blandthorn, the state Labor MP for Pascoe Vale, also said in parliament that making the school co-ed was not the answer to the concerns being raised.

A state girls school should remain an option in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, just as it remains an option in the city and on the eastern side of town, Blandthorn said.

Indeed, remove this option and there is the very real possibility that some girls will be denied access to secondary education altogether.

Elsewhere, Mentone Girls’ Secondary College experienced a 6 per cent decline in student numbers, and Matthew Flinders Girls’ Secondary College in Geelong had a 9. 72 per cent fall.

But not all government girls’ schools shrunk in number. Melbourne Girls College in Richmond grew by 1. 33 per cent, while Canterbury Girls Secondary College held its ground.

Karen Money, a former principal of Melbourne Girls’ College, now an executive director at the Department of Education and Training, said it was important to maintain all of Victoria’s all-girls state schools so that students and parents had choice.

There are a lot of co-educational schools; there aren’t that many single-sex schools remaining that are public schools and that are therefore accessible to [all] families, she said.

Recent closures, including Preston Girls High in 2016 and the merger of Gilmore College for Girls’ into Footscray High in 2020, have reduced the number of all-girls state schools in Victoria.

Money said it was important to offer single-sex schools with a healthy learning environment, free from teenage boy angst.

That whole negotiating of adolescence; what we found was that the girls could really concentrate on academia and their areas of passion, without having to compete with teenage boys in the classroom, she said.

Former independent federal MP for Wills Phil Cleary backed RISE’s campaign on schools in Moreland’s north, saying Pascoe Vale Girls has a level of status that would enable it to be transformed into an attractive, successful high-quality co-ed school.

We have a major problem in that we are seeing a drift away from state schools into the private sector, Cleary said.

We need to ensure that the schools in these areas are diverse, but that they are offering kids who aspire to university and professional lives every opportunity, he said.

We need to provide schools that are properly resourced and attractive to ensure that aspirational parents aren’t falling for the myth that the only way to get their kids success is through a private school.

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