Newcastle Grammar School Centenary Celebrations - 100 years of stories

Newcastle Grammar School has been a launchpad for generations of Newcastle locals, and like its position on the Hill offers an unparalleled perspective on what it means to be Novocastrian.

PASSAGE OF TIME: Top left clockwise, early alumni at NGS; founding principal Margaret Lawrence; an aerial of the Newcastle campus; and a view of the school from Newcomen Street.

PASSAGE OF TIME: Top left clockwise, early alumni at NGS; founding principal Margaret Lawrence; an aerial of the Newcastle campus; and a view of the school from Newcomen Street.

From humble beginnings an enduring vision of education and civic duty has taken shape, standing the test of time and shaping the development of this city.

Strong memories have been forged over those 100 years, uniting staff and students, past and present, with deep connections that extend from the classroom to the world beyond.

In recognition of this long and proud tradition, the Centenary year will feature a number of major school and public events that will link staff, students and families, past and present.

“We have an internal Founders Day celebration for students and staff on Friday, July 27 with service, passing out parade and 1000 specially made cupcakes sporting the Centenary logo,” current Head of School Erica Thomas said. 

“On Saturday, July 28, we will hold our big Alumni celebrations, open to all ex students and teachers, with 11am Service at Christ Church Cathedral, 12pm school tours and 1pm lunch (which must be booked for catering purposes).

“These days will be a chance for past and present students, staff and family to gather and celebrate the school.

“Then we are having a Diamond Centenary Ball on October 26. This will be a black tie event at NEX Newcastle. We’ve already sold over 400 tickets and people will be coming from all over Australia and abroad to attend.”

Via these events, Mrs Thomas hopes to reconnect with alumni across the decades.

“Firstly, by the establishment of regular alumni reunions organised at local businesses,” Mrs Thomas said. “Secondly, by the establishment of a professional database of former students willing to come back and speak on a regular basis at lunches to current students about where they are in life and how experiences at Newcastle Grammar helped them get there.

“In that way, former students can become role models for future students and reinforce the tradition and opportunities that exist at the school.”

In the beginning

Newcastle Grammar School opened originally in the 1860s as a school for boys, and first used Berkeley House until the school’s closure in 1900.  

In the early century, new forces were shaping ideas about education and on July 22, 1918, Church of England Girls’ Grammar School Newcastle was born – a name that lasted from 1918 until 1976 when Newcastle Grammar School in its modern incarnation once again welcomed boys. 

The earliest headmistress, Margaret Lawrence, was well acquainted with the challenges of starting a school.

For over 100 years Newcastle Grammar has been centrally located in the heart of the city and its people.

She was a member of a remarkable family of English educators who between them established The Glennie School in Queensland, New England Girls’ Grammar School in Armidale and Queenwood in Sydney. 

Miss Lawrence arrived in Newcastle in June 1918.  World War I had not yet finished as she began appointing staff and organising resources for the new school, which opened with about 40 students, 10 of whom were boarders. 

The early founders could not have imagined a school of more than 820 students from Pre-School to Year 12 spread over two campuses.

“Most of these boarders had taken horse-drawn cabs from Newcastle Railway Station to their new school on The Hill,” Mrs Thomas said. “Only one student came by motor car, which highlights the eras NGS has seen come and go over its 100 years.” 

In the first year there was so much excitement about Armistice and the end of war, that exams were postponed and the students were given a few days holiday.

It is hard to imagine the difficulty of beginning a school in a time punctuated by the Spanish Influenza, rural droughts, economic depression and then World War II. 

“Through these challenges the founders of the school stood firm in their belief about the role the school was playing in this community and its vision for the future,” Mrs Thomas said. 

“Many of the boarders who attended the school through the 1950s and 1960s were from nearby rural areas where people were looking for places to school their daughters. Those alumni have deep ties not only to the school but to each other that endure to this day.

“These are a deep and important emotional and social resources that link NGS heavily to the community and we hope the Centenary celebrations draw those people back to celebrate those connections and revitalise them.”

It is this continuity of connection to the city and vision that ensured that so many people over many years fought to keep the school open and financially viable over so many years. 

From donors in early years such as the Berkeley family and Parnell Sisters, to a series of boards and heads who drive educational vision and work hard to maintain economic viability.

“The early founders could not have imagined a school of more than 820 students from Pre-School to Year 12 spread over two campuses,” Mrs Thomas said. “They could not have envisaged STEM programs utilising current technologies – nor a school with partner schools in France, Japan and China to enhance language learning. What the early founders did hope was that the school would not just survive, it would thrive, and that their vision for Newcastle Grammar would endure. Berkeley House is now the home of the school’s administration staff. 

“While the view is different to the one that Miss Lawrence and her original pupils looked over towards the city below, there is a sense of belonging to something special as staff and students move through this historic building each day.”

RISE to challenge

The values of Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence (RISE) underpin everything done at Newcastle Grammar School. 

Each new day offers an opportunity for growth as students RISE towards being the very best they can be. 

The NGS Experience is shaped by the aim that all graduates are cognisant of a shared human experience through the complementary elements of the Heart, Head and Hand. 

For students to thrive in the classroom and beyond, a holistic curriculum designed to support and empower all students is vital. To “do well” they must “be well”. 

As a result, NGS has developed and implemented a Positive Education Framework, which is based on Professor Martin Seligman’s PERMA model, and the latest research and guiding principles, to celebrate strengths, build relationships, enhance resilience and grow positive emotions in all students. 

Positive Education at Newcastle Grammar School is all about “doing good” and “feeling good”. It is about teaching the skills of wellbeing so all members of the school community are on a journey to flourishing.

As outlined in the Newcastle Grammar School Framework, Positive Education and Wellbeing principles at NGS permeate the teaching practice from Preschool through to Year 12.

The formal vessels through which these principles are taught include:

  • Professor Empowerment at Park Campus for Preschool to Year 4.
  • Structured Wellbeing sessions during Mentor time at Hill Campus for Years 5 to 12; and
  • Positive Education program Years 7, 8, and 9. 

“Essentially, these principles are incorporated into the daily interactions with students both inside and outside of the classroom rather than simply taught in abstraction and isolation,” said Alan Parsons, Deputy Head of Newcastle Grammar.

“As part of the school’s belief in the importance of “doing good” and “feeling good”, and the inextricable link between academic achievement and wellbeing, Positive Education is timetabled for Years 7, 8 and 9. 

“This endorses the belief that school is about so much more than marks on a page. 

“It is also about connecting with the wider world in a complex way and developing assets such as communication, collaboration, self-management, thinking and researching skills.” 

Teaching for life

To prepare students for tomorrow’s world, NGS goes beyond the curriculum to give an equal emphasis on process as well as igniting passion for learners to have genuine curiosity, wonderment and questioning. 

“Teaching our learners from Kindergarten to be communicators, collaborators, researchers, self managers and critical thinkers will prepare them to be life-long learners on the world stage,” Ms Alicha Dyer, Head of Primary, said. “We offer a wide range of specialized learning including art programs, PE and sport, music, STEM, Mandarin, enrichment opportunities in Maths, English and Science along with co-curricular and extra-curricular pursuits. 

“This broader educational package assist our learners to widen their experiences and provide opportunities that can help shape their interests for the future.”

By exposing a child to a wealth of opportunities at this early age means they can benefit most from personal and academic support in the broadest possible way. 

Smaller class sizes are another feature of education at NGS and facilitate better academic performance. The school also prides itself on open communication between parents, teachers and students. 

“We involve our parents in the learning process,” Ms Dyer said. “From weekly parent-teacher correspondence, parent-teacher interviews, open classrooms, reflections on The Learning Sample Folders, parent information sessions, exhibition evenings, social occassions and fundraisers, families become an integral part of their child’s education. This common ground also helps strengthen parent-child relationships.

“The dedication and passion of our teachers is another reason families choose our school. Our teachers encourage and guide our students to be the best version of themselves by creating a culture of never giving up when things get hard.”