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THE HEAD of a private school which is celebrating an anniversary of it becoming co-educational believes the independent sector has a key role to play in ensuring more women take on senior jobs in the boardroom in the future.

Mark Lauder, headmaster of Ashville College in Harrogate said that the rise of the co-ed school had been the story of the sector over the past three decades.

He predicted an increase in female pupils in some independent schools could play a part in promoting equality in the workplace between the sexes.

Next month the college will open its doors to some of the first female pupils to be educated there as it marks 30 years since it took the decision to become a mixed school.

Mr Lauder told the Yorkshire Post it was one of the first single sex private schools in the North of England to take the move but it had never looked back.

On Saturday November 17 the school will mark the anniversary with a reception and lunch with former pupils travelling from around the country to attend.

Mr Lauder said: “The independent fee paying school sector has a long history of single sex education.

“Ashville was a fairly old school, established in 1877 and was very much a boarding school for boys.

“But we were at the forefront of what has been a national trend toward boarding schools becoming co-educational.

“Becoming co-educational allows more people to qualify to come to your school and it helps the parents of siblings to send their children to the same school.

“Co-educational day schools have a much more regional and local focus, there was a great demand for day pupils and with Harrogate always being a quite aspirational and affluent town there were parents of girls who wanted to be part of the school and we responded to that.

“For us we have never really looked back. The school has doubled in size. The school has around 800 pupils from a base level of about 440.

“We were one of the first independent single sex schools in the North to move to co-ed.”

Mr Lauder said that the rise of co-ed schools had been one of the defining moves within the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference – an organisation representing private schools across the country.

He also said schools increasingly educated local day pupils rather than national boarders.

He added: “There have been changes in family aspirations. Putting your child into a boarding school is now less desirable for some families than it was. The way the family has developed as a unit people are much more likely to want to keep their children at home.”

Mr Lauder said the move had changed the balance of teaching staff and the environment of the school with pupils working under an increasing number of female teachers which better prepared them for life in the workplace.

However he said he understood that for some parents a single-sex education would still be the right choice for their child.

“A choice of school reflects a parent’s aspiration for their child. Some parents are not going to want a co-educational school for their child... It is about finding the environment in which you know your child will flourish,” he said.

Ashville College’s head of biology, Peter Forster is among the members of staff who was at the college when it switched to becoming co-ed.

He said: “Having been an all boys, primarily boarding school, for over 100 years, the introduction of girls into the college in 1982 came, not surprisingly, as a shock to the system for both students and staff.

“The transition to co-education however went surprisingly smoothly and there is no doubt the girls have made a valuable contribution over the years in creating a less masculine and a more calmer and healthier environment in which to teach and learn.”

Carol Tinker, who was appointed to Ashville in September 1982 as the school became co-educational will be giving a speech next month as part of the celebration.

She took on the role as the head of economics and business studies but was also given the responsibility for running girls’ games at the age of 22.

She said: “It was a very exciting time and we were made to feel special.

“However, I was petrified that first morning being fresh out of university and in what had been a very traditionally male environment.

“While there was some antipathy from older pupils and staff to start with this didn’t last long. I loved every minute of my time at Ashville and was sorry to leave.”