Big Issues

My All-Boys School Became Co-Ed, It Saved My Life

co-ed all-boys school protest newington college

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Not much shocks me in the good year of 2024. However, watching grown men cry and protest an all-boys school becoming co-ed? That’s taken me out. Why are these men intimidated by teenage girls getting an education alongside boys? Simple sexism, I fear.

In case you missed it, a bunch of parents, students, and alumni were protesting outside Newington College — an all-boys private school in Sydney — after the school announced it would become fully co-ed by 2030. Yes, these people are protesting, with signs, girls being educated. Totally rational behaviour. The irony is not lost on me that these would be the same men that would in all likelihood call me a snowflake and now they’re crying and protesting girls going to school. As Kourtney Kardashian said, “Kim, there’s people that are dying”. 

The school’s been all-boys since 1863. I’d argue that almost nothing that existed 160 years ago is worth keeping now. Those protesting were interviewed saying they felt “distraught” at the decision and that they wouldn’t want their sons educated with girls. One sign even said boys would become “second class citizens” if the school became co-ed, which makes absolutely no sense because last I checked wealthy men still run most of the world. I wonder where I’ve heard that argument before

Speaking from experience, my all-boys school becoming co-ed saved my life. I went to an independent Catholic high school in Sydney’s Hills District. From years 7-10 it’s all-boys before it becomes co-ed in years 11-12. To be honest, it’s a weird system and one that still confuses me. Why only have the girls come in senior school? Why not have them with us from the start? The main excuse was that the boys needed to learn “how to be men” without the interference (read: distraction) of girls. I can tell you right now that most of the boys at my school would’ve learnt a lot more about masculinity and manhood by being in a co-ed environment. Instead what the boys learnt, from my experience, was how to be homophobic, transphobic, racist, and misogynistic.  

By all accounts, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I wasn’t interested in sport or the school’s beloved rugby union. Instead, I was drawn to performing arts where I found joy being on the stage. I was also one of the only “out” queer kids in the entire school (I say “out” because I never had the chance to figure things out privately — I was pinned as the gay kid from the first day of year 7). As you can expect, being gay at a Catholic all-boys school wasn’t the best experience. I was told, repeatedly by both students and teachers that I was going to hell because I was gay. Whether it was explicitly said to me or not, I knew I wasn’t wanted at the school. By the end of year 10 I spent most of my lunches in the drama rooms, either eating lunch alone, organising the costume room, or gossiping with the teachers (my favourite thing to do). 

Not going to lie, it was fucking tough getting through school every day being surrounded by boys I knew thought of me like I was beneath them or of something that disgusted them. If I can be frank, I’m not sure how I managed to make it through the all-boys system alive. Truly the only thing that kept me going was the school’s performing arts and the fact that girls were coming in year 11. It was like a white light that I tried to drag myself towards so that the darkness didn’t consume me.

I was fighting every single day. But then the girls came in and it felt like the first time I could take a breath. I was holding so much in. I had spent four years always feeling like I had to look over my shoulder. I never felt safe. For a gay kid, the girls presented a shield to protect me from some of the ugliness and toxicity that was thrown my way. Don’t get me wrong, the girls didn’t automatically make the boys better people, nor was it their responsibility to. 

In saying that, the impact the girls had on the grade was monumental. Even just in the maturity levels of the boys increased just because the girls wouldn’t take any of the shit that was thrown at them. In my experience, the girls helped some of the boys be more respectful to queerness and see me as a human being. Having a co-ed system not only helps queer kids feel a bit more safe but it helps social cohesion. We talk a lot as a society about teaching boys to respect women but we can’t have that if they aren’t even in the room. If you want well-rounded respectful men, I just don’t think you’re going to foster that energy at an all-boys school. 

It’s wild to me that here we are in 2024 and people are still trying to maintain an “old boys” institution that teaches young boys that it’s okay to dehumanise women and queer people. These all-boys schools create a culture of toxicity that spews out into society once those boys graduate school. 

We see time and time again how toxic all-boys schools can be. It’s not just a few “bad eggs”, it’s a system that upholds the belief of (mostly white) male superiority and kicks queer people, people of colour, and women to the bottom of the food chain.

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and writer at Junkee. Follow them on Instagram or on X.

Image: Nine News