The Newcastle Royal Grammar School (RGS) is a remarkable school with a 500-year history of welcoming people from all backgrounds. From history's Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood' to recent Nobel Prize molecular biologist Sir Gregory Winter' RGS has educated thousands of young people who have gone on to make an indelible mark on the world.
Thomas Horsley’ the original settlor of RGS pledged his legacy to the School in 1525. Almost 500 years later’ RGS continues to flourish as the premier independent school in the North East of England and as one of the country’s leading schools; RGS was proud to be recognised as the Sunday Times’ North East Independent School of the Decade.
Originally established as a boys’ school’ in November 2000′ during the annual Prize Giving ceremony’ James FX Miller’ then Headmaster at the RGS’ announced one of the most significant and arguably most beneficial changes in the school’s history. After over 470 years of operating as a single-sex school’ the RGS was to admit girls into the Sixth Form in September 2001′ in the hope of eventually extending the co-educational principle to the whole school.
The decision to introduce girls into the school was not one which was taken suddenly. Low key conversations had in fact started in 1998 about the merits of co-education’ reflecting on the ongoing changes in society. Following his appointment in 1994′ James Miller’ who had previously been Headmaster of co-educational school in East-Anglia’ produced a paper for the Schools’ Governors stating the case for allowing girls into the school. The reasons which he shared over two decades ago’ are still upheld by James to this day. He believed that as a co-educational school’ the RGS would better prepare its pupils for university or the world of employment. James also pointed out the good straightforwardly educational reasons too’ for example how some subjects clearly benefit from a wider range of perspectives.
Due to the sensitivity of the issue’ work progressed slowly and with discretion’ and it wasn’t until 1999 that the Governors decided they favoured the principle. At this point’ Old Novocastrians (RGS alumni) and parents were consulted. Opinions of the RGS community at the time were mixed’ from the incredulity that Newcastle’s oldest learning institution should make such a profound change’ through to those passionate that RGS and its highly academic education ought to be accessible to anyone.
The concept of co-education was initially led by RGS Chair of Governors John Fenwick’ and his successor’ Sir Nigel Sherlock’ who oversaw the implementation of co-ed now reflects: “I consider that the introduction of girls into the school has been one of the most far-reaching decisions in the school’s history and has played a part in further enhancing the school’s all-round reputation’ as well as better preparing our young people for the wider world. I believe that the culture has changed in a positive way but the essential ethos remains.”
The first 22 girls to join RGS were indeed trailblazers. Joining what had been a boys’ school for almost five centuries could not have been an easy transition. Fast forward to 2021/2022′ and the current Upper Sixth Form is the first RGS year group to comprise more girls than boys’ with girls now making up 46% of the overall school.
Speaking about the 20th anniversary’ RGS Headmaster’ Mr Stanford’ said: “Looking back’ we are grateful to the then Chairman of Governors John Fenwick’ who had the original vision’ and to his successor’ Sir Nigel Sherlock who implemented it. Under the leadership of Headmaster James FX Miller’ aided by countless staff champions and student ‘buddies’ and not least’ the families and first girls themselves’ we embarked on the journey to co-education which today is so fundamental to the character and success of the school.”
He continued: “At the RGS’ we have no target; we simply admit the brightest applicants’ regardless of their gender identity. Looking to the future we share a vision that those amongst the current student or alumni community who have in the past been considered on the margins – whether due to gender’ race’ religion’ social background or any other reason – are in fact considered mainstream at RGS. It is our determination that uniqueness’ in all its glory’ should not only be tolerated but embraced and celebrated; it is the diversity of our community’ our variety of perspectives’ ideas and backgrounds that is our strength. We appreciate every member of our community’s commitment to championing individuality.”