The University High School

The Principals and their achievements

The beginnings of our present University High School date back from 1910, when The University Practising School opened in a former primary school at the corner of Lygon and Lytton Streets in Carlton.

The purpose of this new school was to provide a place where students of the recently established Diploma of Education course at Melbourne University could observe good teaching and practise innovative pedagogies. The school was co-educational from the beginning, and opened with an enrolment of forty boys and forty girls. The first Principal of The University Practising School was Mr A. Wrigley, who resigned in 1914 to become an inspector. It was during Mr Wrigley’s time, in 1913, that the school changed its name to The University High School. This was the name that many had wanted from the beginning, but could not be used while the older private school was still in existence.

The second Principal, Mr Matthew Stanton Sharman, was appointed in 1915. Sharman was a fine scholar, a capable musician, and a noted teacher of Mathematics and Science. Under his leadership, from 1915 to 1941, the school grew immensely in stature, and acquired much of its continuing tradition. Sharman himself wrote the music for the school song, and established the original system of Houses, named after members of the school community who died in the First World War.

At the end of 1929, The University High School moved from Carlton to a new building – the present North Wing – in Story Street, Parkville, and the new school was officially opened in May, 1930. Because construction took place during a time of severe economic depression, no additional facilities were provided and more than thirty years were to pass before assemblies could be held in the school’s own hall.

Mr L. R. Brookes was installed as Principal in 1941, and it fell to him to lead the school through the worst years of the Second World War. In 1942, the American Army set up a camp on the school oval, and in the same year 240 students from the Mac Robertson Girls’ High School were accommodated after their buildings were taken for military purposes. To make room for these girls, students of Years 7 and 8 were moved from Story Street to Princes Hill, and for the next thirty years, The University High School was without junior classes.

Mr Brookes established the school newspaper “Ubique” in 1946, and saw the return of the oval to the School in 1947. Health problems, however, caused him to resign in 1951, and he died early in 1952. Mr E. Harrison, in fact, acted as Principal from September of 1950 and throughout 1951.

The fourth Principal, Mr R.E. Chapman, took up his duties in 1952. He is remembered as a man of vigorous personality, and the school prospered greatly under his leadership. His love and encouragement of sport were particularly notable, and The University High School teams enjoyed a formidable reputation at this time. This was a period of high level immigration to Australia, and it was during these years that the school developed an increasingly cosmopolitan character.

Mr Chapman’s final year, 1960, marked the 50th anniversary of the school’s foundation, and suitable celebrations were held, not only to mark the end of an era, but to prepare for the years ahead. Mr G. S. Ellis took up the Principalship in 1961, and remained in office until 1968. It was his task to carry forward the building project and to see the hall used officially for the first time in December 1965. Mr G. R. McRae Williamson took over the position of Principal in 1969, and the school was administered by Mr G. Hayter in 1970 and 1971.

During 1971, the Education Department, faced by a need to accommodate large numbers of Year 7 students from the surrounding area, decreed that The University High School would, as a temporary measure, enrol a contingent of unselected junior students. This decision provided a challenge and posed many problems, and it was to this situation that Mr J. E. Clark came, as the new Principal in 1972, until 1985.

In 1972, Year 7 and 8 became an accepted part of The University High School, and the successful integration of these students into a school with a select entry academic tradition was an achievement. Much of the success derived from Mr Clark’s institution of Sub-Schools to monitor the learning of junior students and cater for their pastoral needs.

Another feature of Mr Clark’s term of office was the growth of The University High School Evening School. This organization, at first administered by The University High School, and subsequently by the Collingwood College of Technical and Further Education, provided secondary education for thousands of adult students, and enabled many items of equipment to be obtained on a co-operative basis. The name of Mr O. C. Ferris will always be associated with the development of the Evening School.

The 75th Anniversary of the School’s Foundation was celebrated in 1985, and Mr Clark retired in November of that year. In the following month, Mr P.D.A. Bryce took up his duties as Principal. Mr Bryce was a student at the school, and also spent three years on the teaching staff in the 1960s. Mr Bryce retired in August 1996. 1982 marked another important stage in the history of the school with the opening of the Stella Langford Music Wing. This specially designed building was made possible by a generous provision in the Will of the late Stella Langford, a former student and teacher.

Many developments have occurred since 1985, the most obvious of which are the development of an underground car park beneath the oval, and the construction of a facility to house the school’s new endeavours in the area of Technology Studies.

Ms Bronwyn Valente was appointed in 1997. The first female Principal of The University High School. During her tenure there was an expansion in the use of information and communication technologies, a review of the Years 7 to 10 curriculum and the construction of the Gene Technology Access Centre (GTAC) building, to service the provision of Life Sciences to students and teachers from across the State of Victoria. Ms Valente retired as Principal in 2005. In April 2005, Mr Robert Newton was appointed as Principal. During this period Mr Newton led many building projects such as the VCE Centre, the bridge connecting North and South Wings, the Hutch Art Studio, a fitness gym and refurbishment of Sharman Hall and West Wing. A signature program was also initiated during his time, The Galileo Program for all Year 9 students.

Mr Newton also instigated the building of the Elizabeth Blackburn Sciences in partnership with the University of Melbourne. The new school for VCE Science and Maths opened its doors to select entry students in 2014. Mr Robert Newton retired as Principal in April 2015.

Ms Heather Thompson was appointed as School Principal in July 2015. Ms Thompson became the school’s tenth substantive Principal and second female Principal for The University High School. In 2017 she led an overview of the Sub-School system adding a much needed fourth Sub-School to support the increasing enrolments. The Sub-Schools were renamed after prominent alumni, John Coleman, Hyder Gulam, Emma Johnston and Gillian Triggs. In 2018 The Renaissance Program was introduced for Year 8 to complement the Year 9 Galileo Program.

Current University High School Prinicpal is Ciar Foster, who joined the school in 2020.

A brief history of University High School

Before our present school came into being, there existed in Melbourne a privately owned and operated school by the name of “University High School”.

This institution was founded in 1893, and was, at first, located in the then disused Teachers’ College (now part of the Melbourne College of Advanced Education) on the corner of Swanston and Grattan Streets, Carlton. In 1900, the school was moved to a building opposite the Trades’ Hall in Victoria Street, and in 1912, it was closed.

The Lygon Street School - photographed in 1966, just before its demolition