Thoughts on Trinity as a single-sex school
Last Sunday there was a story in the Sun Herald about a trend for boys’ schools to become co-educational. Unsurprisingly, it appears to have generated a lot of interest.
As I saw it, the article was accurate in its reporting and did not appear to misrepresent facts or the opinions of those who were quoted (including me). In recent years, several boys’ schools have become co-educational, and I am not aware of any co-educational schools that have shifted to offer only single-sex enrolment. As such, it is fair to describe a ‘trend’ in that direction. However, I note that an ‘undeniable trend’ is not the same as an ‘irrefutable need’ or an ‘inevitable endpoint’.
There are lots of things about Trinity Grammar School today that reflect decisions made in the past. The fact that our main campus is in Summer Hill, the fact that we have two primary-school campuses and a Field Studies Centre, the fact that we offer both NESA and International Baccalaureate curricula and credentials, and the list goes on. The fact that we are a school for boys also reflects a historical decision. The sum of all these historical decisions is the School of today.
Of course, decisions can be changed. The fact that a decision was made at one point in history doesn’t prevent us from revisiting that decision. In the 1990s it was decided that the School’s initial remote residential programme would be in the Southern Tablelands; that decision was changed and we set up our Field Studies Centre in the Shoalhaven. The School had offered boarding since its inception; that decision was changed after more than a century. Those who are charged with the responsibility of governing and leading the School of today have an obligation to consider and plan for the School of tomorrow, which will sometimes require big and difficult decisions.
Some decisions are of sufficient magnitude, they would fundamentally transform the nature of the School. For example, I would love for the School to be next to a train (or metro) station, and I would love the School to have more land. Both are achievable changes; we could sell the Summer Hill campus and relocate to the outer fringes of Sydney (perhaps near the new airport).
However, to make such a change would fundamentally transform the School we already know and love. We would be giving up a lot whilst generating a lot of risk. Consequently, rather than relocating the School, we accept that our current situation in Summer Hill has constraints, and we get on with our mission, finding ways to make up for our limitations and make the most of our strengths.
In some ways, the fact that Trinity is a boys’ school is analogous to the fact that we are in Summer Hill. Both facts are historical ‘givens’, both are distinctives of the School, both bring limitations, and both provide opportunities. Both could potentially be re-considered, but any such reconsideration would not be entered into lightly or quickly. There would need to be a very strong case made that a change of this magnitude in necessary in order to better enable us to fulfill its mission. In fact, given that our mission is ‘to provide boys with a thoroughly Christian education in mind, body and spirit’, a change would require us to reconceptualise our mission.
Our School is not a blank sheet of paper onto which we can scribe our ideal conception for a school. In any case, any such ideal would itself be bound by the perspectives of that generation, and would be felt as limitations by subsequent generations! Rather, in this generation we join our stories to a community that predates us and will outlast us, one that comes with strengths and weaknesses, one that is distinctive and unique. Each of us has an opportunity to contribute to the School being the best it can be, but there is a humility in respecting the ‘givens’ that we have inherited.
Given the length of this article already, I won’t elucidate those things that I take to be the strengths and weaknesses of being a boys school, other than to make the point that maximising our strengths and compensating for our weaknesses is exactly what we try to do, and what you see in the School everyday.
Finally, it is worth noting that there are lots of different ways to be a ‘good school’. Good schools can be large or small, operated by the government or operated by a community group, faith-based or non-faith-based, selective or comprehensive, co-educational or single-sex. There is no need for all schools to be the same. Importantly, as parents are the primary educators of their children, I think that it is a good thing for parents to have some capacity to choose the school with whom they will partner in the education of their child(ren). This perspective does not necessarily give market forces an undue priority in education, but it does recognise that there is a place for choice and diversity in a liberal democratic society. The fact that some boys’ schools have decided to become coeducational does not compel all boys’ schools to do likewise.
Tim Bowden | Headmaster