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125-year-old Melbourne girls school to merge with Caulfield Grammar

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Shelford Girls’ Grammar, a 125-year-old high-fee private school currently educating hundreds of students in Melbourne’s inner-east, will soon cease to exist after a merger with co-ed Caulfield Grammar School was announced on Thursday afternoon.

Shelford had 447 students enrolled from prep to year 12 last year and revealed in August it was considering a merger with nearby Caulfield Grammar – less than a kilometre away on Glen Eira Road – after enrolments at the all-girls school continued to fall in recent years.

Shelford Girls’ Grammar principal Pauline Cutajar and Caulfield Grammar principal Ashleigh Martin

Shelford principal Pauline Cutajar, who started in the role earlier this month, and Caulfield Grammar principal Ashleigh Martin told The Age the formal transition for students would occur in 2025.

“While we appreciate the decision will be challenging for some members of our community, there is much to look forward to as the two schools work through the merger’s opportunities,” Cutajar said.

Shelford Girls’ Grammar has experienced a drop in enrolments in recent years.Credit: Simon Schluter

Shelford parents were notified at 4pm about the decision after the school said it underwent “a due diligence and consultation process” throughout 2023.

The single-sex Anglican school, whose VCE students achieved a median ATAR score of 90.95 last year, will continue normal operations in 2024 before the merger.

Caulfield Grammar SchoolCredit: Simon Schluter

Cutajar said she expected some families would not move to Caulfield Grammar, which already caters for 3470 boys and girls across several campuses, although she hoped as many as possible would stay.

“I’ll be encouraging them to hang around and to take some time to explore what’s on offer at Caulfield [Grammar] rather than jumping ship now,” Cutajar said.

Cutajar declared that she wasn’t part of initial merger discussions, but said the board, chaired by Pam Russell, had been examining the move “for the last couple of years” and rumours had swirled among the school community this year.

Shelford, which charges more than $35,000 to domestic year 12 students, underwent a major restructure in 2020 in which 30 staff were made redundant, including 17 at its early learning centre. Ten resigned for personal reasons.

The school, founded in 1898, also shut its early learning centre and kindergarten, cutting off a channel of future students.

In 2017, 504 students were enrolled compared with 447 last year.

When asked why she thought Shelford’s enrolments had declined, Cutajar said: “There seems to be a trend towards co-education.

“I know it’s not just our school that was struggling with numbers. I think it’s quite a few girls schools in the same position.”

Martin, the principal of Caulfield Grammar, praised Shelford for achieving high academic results as a “small and boutique” school and committed to maintaining its history.

He also credited the school for thinking about its long-term future, while adding affordability concerns were hurting enrolments across the entire independent school sector.

“I think generally, [there’s] just an oversupply of girls schools in a very small geographic footprint of Melbourne,” he said.

“I think this won’t be the last conversation about the viability of single-sex girls schools in Melbourne.”

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