Scotland’s last remaining single-sex state school will admit boys for the first time in more than a century after a long-running battle that has split parents, pupils and local residents.
Glasgow city councillors voted unanimously on Thursday morning in favour of Notre Dame high school becoming coeducational in 2021, concluding a row that prompted the formation of two opposing campaign groups, Girls for Notre Dame and Notre Dame High for All, as well as wider debate about the contemporary value of single-sex education.
Maureen McKenna, the executive director of education at Glasgow city council, said: “Now that the decision has been made by elected members, education officers will start to develop transition plans and will engage with school and parent representatives from all the associated primary schools and secondary schools affected by changes.”
McKenna said the council was sensitive to the “significant change” for the school and community.
Responding to the vote on social media, pupils involved in the campaign to keep their school single-sex described the decision as unforgivable, adding: “Although this is a sad time for us, we have to remember everything that we have achieved during the time of the consultation and that we have shown a great example to kids all around the world who are struggling to get their voices heard.”
A recent paper for the councillors suggested the school would gradually become coeducational over a five-year period, with boys joining each new first-year intake but not other year groups.
The council has estimated it will cost about £750,000 to adapt toilets and other facilities at the school to make them suitable for boys.
A spokesperson for Notre Dame High for All thanked councillors “for deciding to allow girls and boys to go to their local school with their friends, sisters and brothers”.
They added: “Notre Dame High is an excellent school with dedicated and hard-working staff, and the school will continue to educate the city’s children to the highest possible standards. Notre Dame High will continue to welcome children of all faiths and none and children from many different diverse backgrounds. It will continue to make a positive impact on our city’s children for many years to come, and so, like all of Glasgow city council’s schools, represents the very best of Glasgow.”
While the majority of single-sex state schools in Scotland closed or were amalgamated in the 1970s and 80s, this Catholic establishment in the affluent west end of Glasgow, founded by nuns in 1897, continued to educate only girls, who nowadays come from a diverse mix of ethnic backgrounds across the city.
Coed campaigners argued that the school should be open to local families. Parents currently have the option of a mixed secondary, but on the far side of the catchment area, across busy roads. They pointed to the fact that the school roll was not at capacity as evidence of the waning popularity of single-sex education.
Other parents, including many current and former pupils, firmly resisted the proposed change, insisting that girls grew in confidence, both intellectually and socially, in a single-sex setting, and also noting that minority ethnic girls were strongly represented in placing requests.
Describing the council’s decision as shameful, a parent spokeswoman for the Girls for Notre Dame group said: “There is no common sense in removing education choice from the many to give to the privileged few who already have some of the best-performing coed secondary schools right on their doorstep.”
She added: “With no clear educational benefit for change outlined, an equality impact statement highlighting a negative impact on our ethnic communities, and roll-call numbers predicted to decline, we also fear for the longer-term future of the school once it’s coed.”