THE board of governors of one of Scotland’s leading girls’ schools yesterday announced controversial plans to become fully co-educational for the first time in its 140-year history in an effort to almost double its number of pupils and develop its educational facilities.
The Albyn School for Girls, in Aberdeen, which currently only admits boys to its nursery classes, will enrol boys as pupils in the primary one class at the beginning of the new school year in August.
Parents at the independent school, where the fees range up to 7,200 a year, were not consulted about the decision and were only informed of the move by letter yesterday, sparking outrage amongst some parents.
Sheila Barclay, the vice-chairwoman of the school’s Parents’ Association, said she had been "dumbstruck" by the board’s decision. "This situation has happened without any information being passed to the parents, prior to the announcement," she said.
"It seems a lack of respect for the parents that they [the board] felt it necessary to make such a radical change to the school without any consultation or information passing through the normal channels, prior to the fait accompli."
The governors’ decision will leave St Margaret’s School as the only all-girl school in Aberdeen with Albyn and Robert Gordon’s College competing against each other in the independent co-education sector.
David Burnside, a leading Aberdeen lawyer who is chairman of the Albyn School’s board of governors, yesterday admitted that the decision could lead to a number of parents withdrawing their daughters from the school.
But he insisted that the move towards full co-education was vital for the continuing success of Albyn, founded in 1867.
Mr Burnside said: "I am aware that some parents are angry at not being consulted. Inevitably, change of any sort will bring opposition.
"But it would not have been possible to consult in a meaningful way prior to the decision. I believe that, as governors, we have to show leadership. We have been elected to manage the school.
"But I think that the majority of the parents will realise that the future of the school depends upon increasing the roll which this move will do.
"It will also provide a much needed alternative education for boys in Aberdeen. At the moment there is very little choice and we will provide that choice.
"If we lose some people, that will be unfortunate, but I think the net gain to the school will be greater."
Mr Burnside added: "What is important in a school like this is to develop the breadth and depth of the curriculum and to provide enhanced resources and facilities and to expand the nature and quality of the accommodation. And the way to do that, in the view of the governors, is to increase the school roll."
The school has a current roll of 380 and plans to increase that to 650 by the time the Upper School goes co-educational in 2010.