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Clayfield College is the only secondary school in Queensland to offer a parallel learning environment. Picture: Supplied.

‘Best of both worlds’: Historic Brisbane school goes co-ed

After nearly one hundred years, an all-girls independent college in Brisbane has welcomed male students for the first time.

Clayfield College, located in Brisbane's inner-north suburbs, had its first cohort of Year 7 male students walk through its doors in January this year.

Principal Dr Andrew Cousins said when the historical change occurred students "cheered so loudly that they lifted the roof off the chapel."

"Some of the boys in primary school started crying with tears of joy because they could continue their journey at Clayfield," he told Education Review.

Since 1931, Clayfield College has had a co-educational primary school but its high school only enrolled female students.

The school announced in 2021 that male students would be able to study at the college past Year 7 which was welcomed by the entire school community.

"It creates that great learning environment for them in the classroom, but they also enjoy the opportunity to interact in the playground, do music, sports training, and spend lunchtime together," Dr Cousins said.

The college's move to become fully co-educational came after a survey said more than 40 per cent of parents asked for the transition.

In Queensland there are currently 230 independent schools in 37 local government areas, yet only 23 are co-ed.

Dr Cousins, who has a PhD in gender inclusivity, said the change required a lot of planning and preparation to help drive a "smooth transition."

"We're fortunate to have a wonderful staff who are excellent practitioners and worked hard to make sure this transition was a success."

In order to facilitate the change, Clayfield reviewed its pastoral care program, updated its facilities to accommodate both genders, design new uniforms, and consult staff on new teaching practices.

"We had a lot of collaborative working with the staff, but because they often teach multiple year levels across the pre to 12, that helped smooth the transition," Dr Cousins said.

"At the end of the day, it's about having great teachers in front of students, and we know that teachers make the biggest difference in student learning."

Currently, male and female students at the college are learning separately from years 7 to 9, before entering a co-educational environment from years 10 to 12.

This parallel learning has been described by research as an 'effective bridge for the gender divide' because it allows teachers to tailor course content to suit students' specific needs.

"It's about being able to have the best of both worlds," Dr Cousins said.

"There is a lot of change in adolescents, particularly at that age, but they need to evolve in an environment that reflects society.

"Having these interactions is an important part of the education journey."

Dr Cousins, who began his education journey more than 25 years ago, said he is passionate about developing students and giving them all the opportunities to succeed later in life.

"Here at Clayfield, we live by our motto, 'Let your light shine', which fuels the fire of students by creating that sense of purpose.

"We also aim to create a place for students to belong so that they feel great, function well, and get great results in whatever they pursue."

Clayfield College will officially become fully co-educational in 2028.

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