A retired alumni of a prestigious Sydney boys’ school says its decision to go co-ed will change the “dynamics” and “traditions” of the school, breaking its long-standing male bond.
Former construction boss Tony Ratsos, 63, who graduated from Newington College in 1977, also sent his son to the school.
Mr Ratsos is a stakeholder in Newington, and said he didn’t believe enough people were consulted about the decision to allow girls become students in the coming years.
The 160-year-old school, which charges annual fees of $42,201 for a year 12 boy, will allow female secondary school students from 2026, with plans for it to become fully co-ed by 2033.
Mr Ratsos was one of dozens who protesters outside the school over the co-ed decision, with one parent accusing the school of silencing students from criticising the decision.
While Mr Ratsos said he isn’t against co-ed schools, he argued that Sydney already had a wide selection of these, and there needed to be options available for those who want to put their kids in single-sex education facilities.
“Boys generally learn [differently] to girls,” he said.
“The girls would become the dominant students, and the curriculum would be built around them. So really, the boys [would be] second-rate students in the next five to 10 years”.
He added for those who did not want to attend co-ed schools, pulling out of Newington would cause issues due to incredibly long waiting lists in private boys schools today.
Mr Ratsos said Newington College already has plenty of co-ed interaction with its sister school, MLC School, and that it was important to hold up Newington’s all-make traditions.
“It’s more than just a school: It’s your life, it’s a community,” he said.
“All those men today that were protesting, they’re not strangers to me. They’re my brothers. They’re all old boys ... it’s a bond you can’t break.”
He said that if the school were to go co-ed, “that bond no longer applies, because the dynamics have changed. I can’t bond the same way as I do with these men with girls. I can’t look a girl in the eye and call her a Newingtonian, because that’s not what the essence of the school is about.”
About 30 people arrived at the Newington campus, in Stanmore, about 8am on Wednesday, carrying placards and signs denouncing the school council’s decision.
During the protest, demonstrators held up signs which called on the school to “reverse” the decision, with one sign stating the college had already lost “$5m in bequests”.
Another demanded a new vote on the co-ed policy.
“Demand school council transparency and accountability,” it read.
One parent said students had been told not speak to media about the proposed changes or risk potential leadership roles at the school.
“The boys have been threatened not to speak to media and to not make any noise about the co-ed situation,” she said.
Year 12 student Leo Grippi said while he wasn’t “aggressively’ against the decision, he said the announcement had rattled the school.
“I have mixed opinion, I obviously don’t support it,” he said.
“I think it’s shaken the school a bit and that’s why I don’t like it. I want a smooth environment to do year 12.”
However, he conceded that the change could foster a “new learning environment” for Newington College students.
Ahead of the protest, the college’s headmaster Michael Parker had written to parents alerting them of the planned demonstration.
Mr Parker said staff numbers would be increased at the “perimeter of the college” to ensure the safety of students.
“There will be several hundred boys starting their first day at Newington tomorrow and they will be experiencing all sorts of mixed feelings as they walk through the gate at this threshold moment,” the message said.
“So that students are safe on Wednesday morning as they enter the school we will have an increased staff presence at the perimeter of the college.”
Separate to Wednesday’s planned protest, a change.org petition against the decision has received 2378 signatures over the last two months.
Former student John Ramarque said the school needed to remain an all-boys facility in order to “preserve Newington’s legacy for future generations”.
“As a proud member of Newington College in Stanmore, NSW, Australia, I have witnessed first-hand the unique culture that has been cultivated over generations,” he wrote.
“This culture is being threatened by recent decisions made by our headmaster and council. The decision to make our school co-ed is not just a change in policy; it’s an erosion of our heritage.”
Elite Sydney private school Cranbrook, in the eastern suburbs, will also allow female students to enrol for years 7 and 11 from 2026, which means its senior school (years 7 to 12) will become fully co-educational by 2029.
However, Trinity Grammar School, which neighbours Newington College in the suburb of Summer Hill, says it will remain a single-sex boys school.