Parents at prestigious private school protest plan to go co-ed

Students and families arriving at Sydney's Newington College today were greeted by people protesting the school's decision to go co-ed.

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

For Newington College students returning for the 2024 school year today, a parent protest outside the school gate demonstrated an intensifying backlash against the decision to admit girls to the 160-year-old boys’ school.

Current parents combined with alumni to gather at a nearby park before walking to the man campus gates of the Sydney school this morning – carrying placards calling for the decision to become fully co-educational by 2033 to be reversed.

School security, along with two NSW Police officers, were on-hand.

Single-sex vs co-ed battle lines intensify

Former Newington student Dallas Morgan, who has a son in the high school, says many old boys are “outraged” by the school council’s decision to say goodbye to its single-sex status and says he is urging the headmaster and school board to reconsider.

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“We want the school leadership to see the error of their ways and reverse the decision, not only the transition to co-ed, but also the proposed increase to student numbers,” Mr Morgan says. “We want our 160-year-old school back.”

On Tuesday night, Newington College principal Michael Parker sent a letter to parents saying that, while he acknowledged their right to protest, the first day of the school year was “all about the current students”.

“There’ll be several hundred boys starting their first day at Newington,” he wrote. “This protest will act as at best a distraction, and at worst an abiding memory of these boys’ time at Newington.”

The announcement that the school would welcome girls in the junior school from 2026 and become a fully co-educational campus by 2033 shocked many in the school community when it was made late last year.

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Since then, an online petition objecting to the change has gathered more than 2300 signatures, while a separate group of parents has threatened the college with legal action over the plan to enrol girls.

Following the announcement, Newington’s Founders’ Society chairman Greg Mitchell quit his position and withdraw his bequest to the school.

The Founders’ Society was established in 2010 to raise money for the college and for student scholarships by asking alumni to donate by making a bequest in their wills.

Save Newington College supporters not ready to give up the fight

A separate coalition – made up of old boys and parents – established the Save Newington College group to lobby the school to overturn the decision.

Mr Morgan graduated from the school in 1990 says 640 alumni and current and former parents are registered to be a part of the group.

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“The Save Newington group is not directly involved in any legal action, however many of our groups’ supporters are, and we are all interested in its success,” he says. “The group has helped to pass on information from the legal action group to our supporters, including fundraising efforts.”

Kerry Maxwell is the parent of a former student and belongs to a group known as MOONS (Mothers of Old Newingtonians). She says she attended today’s protest to help “speak up on behalf of a lot of families I know that are furious about this decision, but they’re too scared to talk”.

“Parents signed up for a boys’ school. They heard nothing about possible co-ed plans for months and then there is a sudden announcement,” she says. “Now, if parents try and get their boys into other schools, they can’t.”

Some see co-ed decision as a positive move

But for one year 12 student, the decision to go co-ed was viewed with more enthusiasm – and described as something “more representative of the modern world”.

“I’m happy about it, as are many students.”

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Former Newington student Tony Retsos graduated in 1977, and says, while he has “nothing against co-ed”, the school “had been a private elite boys’ school for 160 years and the process to consult about a decision of this kind wasn’t sufficient”.

“All we want is for the decision to be reversed and a proper consultation with all stakeholders,” he says. “Without more information, the decision is unfathomable.”

Former student says history should not be lost

Following today’s protest, Mr Morgan spoke with EducationDaily.

“The process leading to the decision is considered to be totally unsatisfactory and attended by a failure to adequately consult stakeholders, to consider opposing views, and a total failure to disclose the evidence and facts relied upon,” he says.

“The question that has never been grappled with by the decision-makers is: what was the problem or threat being faced by school of 160 years standing that this co-ed seismic shift is addressing? And if there was a problem or threat, how does this solve it? It’s a simple question that has never been answered. All we have been given by the decision-makers is woke mumbo jumbo.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]