Established in 1926, Northcote High School remains one of a few government secondary schools in Melbourne that has not been renamed, moved or merged since opening.
Coeducation to single sex school
After two years of coeducation, the Education Department required all NHS girls to leave and attend the newly established Preston Girls High School. No choice was given to stay. Educational thinking at the time was that single sex schooling was preferable, although there was little educational research to support this thinking - it seems to have reflected the cultural bias of the time. For the next 60 years, Northcote High School operated as a boys only school. The curriculum offerings and facilities expanded as the school reached a maximum of about 700 boys in the early 1980s. During this time NHS’s reputation blossomed as a provider of international education, as the school to beat in interschool sports and as a school with a strong academic tradition.
By the 1980s the school was under increasing pressure to become co-educational again. Several families insisted their daughters attend the school in the mid 1980s, to access the wider range of senior level subjects. The school found itself in the absurd situation of playing interschool senior boy's soccer, but with girls in its (boy's) team. In 1987 the school made a decision to again offer places to girls. There are now 800 girls in the school, constituting almost 48% of the student population.
Left: A very young John Cain Junior addresses students at a "mock election" c.1945. Courtesy Cinesound Movietone Australian Newsreel Collection
A school for the new millennium
Despite the educational turbulence of the 1990s, NHS continued to develop its reputation as a leading provider of rigorous academic education for Melbourne's inner north. The school obtained major grants for facility improvements, a science and technology centre of excellence and for piloting learning technologies in the classroom. New subjects and programs such as the Music program, French and Chinese languages, the ACE program, and the Duke of Edinburgh program were also introduced or extended.
Most significantly, NHS has maintained and sustained its absolute commitment to providing an exemplary education to the young people of Northcote and surrounding areas and now has a population of around 1,600 students.
As of 2016, the school is one of the largest stand-alone providers of secondary education in Melbourne's northern suburbs. Its results (NAPLAN and VCE) are strong and have been on a continuous improvement trend for almost 20 years. Currently over 20% of students study music, over 70% represent the school in interschool competitions - from Chess to Australian Rules football. Between 60 and 70% of graduates go directly to a University, while 20-25% attend TAFE.
The school motto originates from Virgil's The Aeneid, Book III, Verse 188; ‘Let us submit to Apollo and, having been advised, let us follow the better course of action - Meliora Sequamur’. For Virgil, the tale is a nationalistic epic linking Rome to the legends of Troy. In the 21st century it still represents sound advice to ‘follow a better path’.