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Catholic boys’ school looks to go co-ed to ward off inner-city decline

But he said he was optimistic that CBC would continue to attract students in future with a co-educational model that maintained the best of single-sex schooling.

“In the next 18 months or less, we will begin to plan around the possibility of girls’ and boys’ education at our school, which some people would just simply call co-ed, but we will look to capture some of the advantages of single-sex education in our model,” he said.

Presentation College Windsor blamed dwindling enrolments when it made its abrupt announcement on Monday that it must close three years shy of its 150th anniversary.

Mr Bain-King said inner urban gentrification had also taken a toll on some Catholic schools.

“There is a higher percentage of families now that live in the inner city that are demographically not inclined towards religion, whereas once you would have had working class families and middle class families that had a strong faith background,” he said.

But he said CBC did not need to merge with Presentation College for the sake of its own survival.

“I don’t think it’s a simple case of, ‘if we don’t do this, we won’t survive’, but I do think if we do work out a way of having a co-educational environment with elements of single-sex learning and cultural activities that suit boys and girls, that would be a valuable thing and something worth trying.”

Analysis of Department of Education data reveals that enrolment numbers at Catholic single-sex schools in Victoria have risen modestly in the past decade, in the face of a 15 per cent surge in total statewide student numbers.

Between 2008 and 2018, enrolments in Catholic boys’ schools increased by 7.8 per cent, compared with a tiny rise of 0.3 per cent at girls’ schools.

The Presentation Sisters of Victoria, who govern the Windsor girls’ school, made the final decision to close after year 7 enrolments slumped below 50.

Michael Elphick, a consultant for the sisters, said that at 466 students, enrolment levels at Presentation College Windsor had fallen well below the threshold of what is needed to provide a broad, high-quality education.

“In the modern day with the cost of schooling and the kind of things parents expect, it’s … well past 1200 or 1300 to achieve an economy of scale,” he said.

The sisters have offered CBC’s governors, Edmund Rice Education Australia, the first opportunity to purchase the school site, which has an estimated value of more than $40 million.

Presentation College is not the only school that has experienced a decline in enrolments in the past 10 years.

There are six single-sex Catholic secondary schools in Melbourne with fewer than 600 students, mostly in the inner city.

Boys’ school St James’ College in Bentleigh East has declined from 458 students in 2008 to 340 last year.

Enrolments at girls’ school Mercy College in Coburg North have dived from 758 in 2008 to 432 last year.

Mercy College principal Lila McInerney acknowledged the school faced competition from several other education providers, and said it had put in place a capital works program and reached out to more primary schools to attract more students.

“Significantly, enrolments in our college will grow by just over 5 per cent next year as a result of the initiatives we’ve put in place,” Ms McInerney said.

But several other Catholic schools have enjoyed solid growth in enrolments.

Peter Goss, school education program director at the Grattan Institute, said any school with shrinking enrolments would find it tougher to compete with bigger schools.

In Melbourne, a school with fewer than 600 to 700 students might find itself in this position, he said.

“Secondary schools will benefit from a decent minimum scale that allows them to put in place strong leadership, to build expertise and a breadth of subjects, particularly in years 11 and 12,” Dr Goss said.

“If you’re too small it’s harder to do all of those things.”

Dr Goss said inner-city Melbourne schools with declining enrolments face uncertainty.

“When a school in an area of the city that has a growing population has dropping enrolments, that raises questions, as parents seem to be voting with their feet,” he said.

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