Scotland’s last all-girls state school faces scrutiny over policy

Campaigners David Gould, Gemma Gerber, Viviana Kennedy, Jill Grady and Niamh Breakey. Picture: John Devlin
Campaigners David Gould, Gemma Gerber, Viviana Kennedy, Jill Grady and Niamh Breakey. Picture: John Devlin
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It is Scotland’s last remaining all-girls state school, with a history stretching back more than a century.

But the future of Notre Dame High, in the heart of Glasgow’s West End, is to face renewed scrutiny following a campaign for it to open its doors to boys.

Councillors are expected to approve a public consultation on the school’s admission policies next month, which could ultimately decide whether Notre Dame, which opened in 1897, can continue its unique role in Scottish secondary education.

Two campaign groups – one supporting the status quo and the other calling for the girls-only rule to end – have been organising petitions and running social media profiles for the past year.

The forthcoming consultation has re-energised both camps as they prepare for the latest chapter in a wider debate on whether single-sex schools should be provided by the state.

Michelle Watt has one daughter who attends Notre Dame and is chair of the school’s parent council. She believes its academic track record – it is among the best performing in the country – is proof of a successful formula that should not be tampered with.

“This is about offering choice,” she said. “We don’t understand why the council would want to remove choice from many girls across the city.

“The West End is already well provided for when it comes to top performing co-ed schools. Three of the best performing in Glasgow are within walking distance.”

Campaigners for change counter that Notre Dame High’s school roll relies on pupils who live far outside its catchment area and indeed outwith Glasgow.

But Watt says this shows the demand that exists for single-sex education. “There should be more Notre Dames,” she said. “It is a high-achieving school. It’s a sad fact that we have to say this, but girls perform better in a single-sex environment in the very subjects the Scottish Government is trying to promote.”

Glasgow City Council recently completed a six-month review of high school catchment areas within the city, the results of which will go before the local authority’s city administration committee this week.

Once that report has been approved, the consultation on Notre Dame’s future is expected to begin.

For Jill Grady and her fellow members of Notre Dame High For All (NDH4ALL), this is a milestone in their two-year campaign for boys to gain admission to the school.

She has a son and a daughter attending Notre Dame Primary, a short distance from the high school of the same name. While her daughter has the option of attending Notre Dame High, her son does not.

“In any other primary in Scotland you would be going to high school with the cohort of pupils you have spent the last seven years with,” she said. “At Notre Dame Primary, you don’t have that. All of the boys have no right to go to Notre Dame High. So you lose that smooth transition to high school.

“What we’re saying is this is a historical anomaly. We understand the school has great attainment, and why parents have decided to send their kids there. But in this day and age, for boys to walk past the local high school, which 0.4 miles from their old primary school, is nonsensical.”

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: “A commitment was made by the council to hold a consultation that will begin in early 2019 when all interested parties will be able to express their views.

“This has been communicated on numerous occasions and preparatory work has already begun in order that the consultation is as comprehensive as possible.”