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Perth Modern School

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Subject: Selective school, Tom Stannage, Subiaco, Western Australia, Churchlands Senior High School, Country Senior High Schools Carnival (Western Australia)
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Perth Modern School

Perth Modern School
French: Savoir C'est Pouvoir
Knowledge is Power
Subiaco, W.A
Type Selective, Day & Boarding School, Public
Established 1911
Principal Lois Joll
Gender Co-educational
Enrolment 1049 (7 Aug 2014)[1]
Campus Urban
Colour(s) Blue, Yellow & Red             

Perth Modern School is an academically-selective co-educational public high school located in Subiaco, an inner city suburb of Perth, Western Australia. The school, established in 1911, caters for students with high academic ability.

In 2010 The Age reported that Perth Modern ranked equal fourth among Australian schools based on the number of alumni who had received a top Order of Australia honour since 1975.[2] Fourteen Perth Modernians have won Rhodes Scholarships from the University of Western Australia.[3]

Students of Perth Modern School are called 'Perth Modernians' or 'Modernians' for short.


  • History 1
  • Heritage trail 2
  • Modern campus 3
  • City Beach Residential College 4
  • Academics 5
  • Performing arts 6
  • House system 7
  • Notable alumni 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
    • Notes 10.1
    • Further reading 10.2
  • External links 11


Perth Modern School was the first government high school in Western Australia . The school opened in 1911. Students were prepared for the University of WA which commenced in 1913. The school charged a comparatively minimal fee of £6 a year. Demand for places at the school was high. Students came from all over Perth and Western Australia, many staying with relatives or boarding as near to the school as possible. In 1912, the school inaugurated a system of scholarships designed to encourage students of ability to attend regardless of the financial situation of their parents. Students studied comprehensive science and modern languages as part of their courses, in addition to classical subjects.[4]

Central to the establishment of the school was Cecil Andrews. As a young man, Andrews was Inspector General of Schools in Western Australia and he had the honour of naming the school and of directing the school curriculum. The first Principal of the school, FG Brown, helped the school off to an excellent start and he was succeeded in 1912 by Joseph Parsons who led the school until 1939.[5]

The school was founded on scientific principles, and throughout its history the school has been at the forefront of education. Perth Modern School pioneered two modern and entirely new concepts in Western Australian education. One was the concept of co-education and the other was that there was to be no corporal punishment, no detention, and no punishment arbitrary or authoritative.[4]

The first concept provided co-education granting young women and young men access to the same higher education pathway. When Perth Modern School opened, it was rare to find women participating in the same endeavours on the same playing field as men. Prior to Perth Modern School, the only high schools in Western Australia were eight independent schools. These schools were sectarian, unisex, high fee paying schools, and only three of the eight schools catered for young women. The school educators helped raise the consciousness in generations of students who were ready, willing and able to advocate change for justice and equality based on merit, as they entered the world and pursued their careers.

The second concept charged each student with the knowledge the school would offer no discipline except self-discipline. Worldwide, it was accepted teachers would use arbitrary and often violent punishments to force students to conform to the will of authority. Perth Modern embraced a new motto, Savoir C’est Pouvoir (Knowledge is Power), and the Sphinx, representing knowledge and wisdom, was adopted as the school emblem. By recognizing and by raising higher reasoning in each student, the school educators imparted the gift of education as the key to future success, and this was the motivation for each student to work hard and to achieve the highest results possible.

In 1958 Perth Modern School became a comprehensive five year high school. In 1968 music became a focus of the school and the first of the music scholarships were awarded to 36 first year and 19 fourth year students. By 1970, the school orchestra was formed and the Joseph Parsons Memorial Library opened.[5]

The old Thomas Street Primary School, administered by Perth Modern School, became the home of English as a second language in Western Australia in 1990.[5]

In 2005, the Premier of WA, Mr Geoff Gallop, announced the proposal for the school to once again become one of academic excellence. Funding was allocated to turn Perth Modern School into a selective school for academic excellence to serve WA’s most brilliant high school students.[5]

The school reverted to its original concept of a fully selective government school in 2007, recognising that gathering students of high ability in one school encourages students to "be themselves" with like-minded peers, which allows opportunity for the development of higher-order thinking skills and meets the social, emotional and educational needs of gifted students.[6][7] The gifted program is based on Francois Gagne's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent.[8] In 2011, the centenary year, all students were once again academically selected.[9]

Heritage trail

West building and main hall (now Beasley Building)

By December 1907, the Western Australian Parliament allocated funds to build the first government high school on a site near the Thomas Street School in Subiaco. However, debate continued for some time, and it was not until 1909 that the west building and main hall contract was tendered.[10]

The new school was built on land which was formerly part of the northern common in Subiaco. The land was set aside for education purposes. The site, of over 4 hectares (10 acres) in area, was located between Roberts and Mueller Roads, west of Thomas Street in Subiaco. On 30 July 1909, S B Alexander was awarded the building contract for £11,637. The contract for the west building and main hall specified eight classrooms, art room, library, chemistry and physics laboratories, lecture rooms, as well as cookery and laundry classrooms. These facilities were grouped around the 27.4m by 14.3m (90 ft by 47 ft) central hall. The building was designed by Hillson Beasley, Principal Architect of the Public Works Department, Western Australia. By 1911 the building was completed for the sum of £18,974.[4]

Beasley’s design of the west building and main hall comprised three parallel two storey wings facing north and south with a courtyard to the west. The building was typical of Beasley's mixture of formality and informality, with interesting interiors serving ritualised assemblies and examinations. The building reflected many key characteristics of Federation Arts and Crafts architecture. It was constructed in red brick with a stone base facade. Decorative exterior features included white painted cement rending to all framing, quoins, and copings. The design and construction also featured a central landmark clock tower with a battlemented parapet, a tapering roof lantern and dormer windows. The roofs were designed and built with steeply pitched parapeted gables covered in tiles, and with prominent eaves and exposed ends to rafters. The main hall was set two storeys high with a jarrah ceiling. Carved sloped roof rafters were designed to give the interior of the building an ecclesiastical feel. The gallery was built spanning east and west on the first floor level with staircases at each end.[4]

Other notable details of fine design and craftsmanship of west building included the stained glass transom windows and fanlights executed in Art Nouveau style at the north side of the building and inside the entrance foyer.[10]

The west building was refurbished during the late 1980s and the work was recognised by several awards. The building is a leading venue for chamber music and general ensemble performance in Perth. The west building is linked by a covered walkway to the third heritage listed wing which houses society and environment classes

The west building and main hall were interimly registered by the Heritage Council of Western Australia in 1992 and it entered the State Registry of Historical Places in 2001. The building was included on the bases of aesthetics and of the number of notable Australians who hailed from these doors.[10]

War memorial

The Old Modernians War Memorial was unveiled in 1922 to commemorate the service of ex-students in World War I. The outbreak of WWI saw 177 Modernians enlist, 27 of whom lost their lives, though only 24 names are recorded on the monument. The memorial was designed by William Hardwick, the Principal Architect of Western Australia in 1920, and it is located at the oval-side front door of the school.

East building and gymnasium (now Andrews Building)

The east building and gymnasium were built after the Second World War. Both buildings have been listed as well sited bearing a functionalist aesthetic. The design and construction have been recognised as fine examples of post-war International style. The new administration building joins and provides lift access to the east building.[10]

The ringing-of-the-bell

The school has a rich history and incorporates many rituals to help raise the consciousness of each student. The oldest notable ritual is the ringing-of-the-bell by each leaver.

Modern campus

The school is demarcated by the following buildings and centres -

Andrews Building (previously east block)

  • administration building
  • east building
  • physical education office (formerly gymnasium, metal & woodworking rooms, and the old canteen)

Beasley Building (previously west block)

  • formerly the old performing arts theatre, and the old photography, physical fitness, & ballet studios
  • west building and oval (original Perth Modern School, 1911)

Casey Centre

  • drama theatre
  • The Graduate College of Dance

Embleton Music Centre

  • music classrooms

Gardham Building (new school)

  • design and technology

Mills Building (new school)

  • visual arts, home economics, languages, ICT

Parsons Building (new school)

  • art, photography, & home economics building
  • library & cafeteria (replaced Joseph Parsons Memorial Library, demolished 2009)
  • new performing arts theatre

Stokes Building (previously Thomas Street Building)

  • English (original Thomas Street Primary School, established 1904)
  • Health and Careers

City Beach Residential College

Students coming from regional, rural, remote and international areas attending the school can board nearby at City Beach Residential College located in Bold Park next to the ISWA (the International School of Western Australia). It contains 72 beds and was funded by a grant from the government. Students have their own large rooms, in 6 bed units, each with 3 bathrooms, a kitchen and recreation area with TV.


The school has performed consistently well in the WACE school rankings and is often the best performing amongst all of the public schools in the state.

Year % +75 in WACE[lower-roman 1] State ranking[lower-roman 2] % +65 in WACE[lower-roman 3] State ranking % graduation[lower-roman 4]
2014 35.89 2 68.89 1 99.43[11]
2013 32.22 3 63.01 3 99.47[12]
2012 37.03 1 68.42 2 100 [13]
2011 34.09 4 67.32 6 100[14]
2010 21.32 15 59.01 18 97.1[15]
2009 50.51 (>75% one or more subjects) 11 49.9 (score of 64.6% or higher) 18 98.29[16]
  1. ^ Based on the number of Stage 3 course enrolments in the school where a WACE course score of 75 or above was achieved
  2. ^ Ranking of school compared to other schools in the state
  3. ^ Based on the number of Stage 3 course enrolments in the school where a WACE course score of 65 or above was achieved
  4. ^ Percentage of Year 12 cohort that graduated with a WACE certificate

Performing arts


Perth Modern School hosts the independent Graduate College of Dance, from which a number of acclaimed high profile dancers have graduated. The Graduate College of Dance is one of leading vocational Swanbourne Senior High School. With the amalgamation of Swanbourne into Shenton College in 2000, the department offered the Graduate College of Dance accommodation at the Perth Modern School site due to the availability of appropriate space and suitable dance flooring.[17]


Perth Modern's music programme is selective and available to all enrolled students who complete an audition.

The programme encompasses the Kodály methodology in its teachings. Most aural and theory concepts are taught with the aid of the philosophies of music by Zoltán Kodály, in which hand signs are used as a way of representing musical notes by holding the hand in a certain position for each note.

The music programme places an emphasis on singing. It is a requirement that all students in the programme are in at least one vocal ensemble. The school has four wind orchestras, three standard orchestras (two string and one symphony) and two classical guitar ensembles as well as various other instrumental groups, chamber choirs and jazz ensembles.

The Perth Modern School Symphony Orchestra has the longest tradition of any school ensemble in Western Australia, having been first formed in 1915.

House system

Perth Modern School was originally excluded by WA private schools from joining established interschool sporting competitions. In 1915, Mr Parsons separated the school into Red, Blue, Gold and Sphinx Factions to promote sporting rivalry.[5]

In 2007 Perth Modern School introduced a new house system to provide competition and recognition of achievement. The houses were named after the four of the first five school principals with each house represented by the following colours:


Notable alumni

Perth Modern School alumni are known as Perth Modernians. They have received more top Order of Australia honours than the alumni of any other school in Western Australia.[18] Fourteen Perth Modernians have won Rhodes Scholarships from the University of Western Australia.[3] Notable Perth Modernians include:

See also



  1. ^ "Alphabetical List of Western Australian Schools" (pdf). Western Australian Department of Education. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 10 Aug 2014. 
  2. ^ Topsfield, Jewel (4 December 2010). "Ties that bind prove a private education has its awards". The Age. p. 11. .
  3. ^ a b "Western Australian Rhodes Scholars" (doc). University of Western Australia. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Perth Modern School West Building including Main Hall". Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Perth Modern School History and Tradition". Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  6. ^ Higher Order Thinking
  7. ^ "DET WA Gifted and Talented"
  8. ^ NSW AGTC: Francois Gagne's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent [2]
  9. ^ Borrello, Eliza (16 February 2011). "Perth Modern returns to its roots". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 22 February 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Perth Modern School" (PDF). Register of Heritage Places - Assessment Documentation. Heritage Council of Western Australia. 14 December 2001. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  11. ^ "Year 12 Student Achievement Data" (PDF).  
  12. ^ "Year 12 Student Achievement Data" (PDF).  
  13. ^ "Year 12 Student Achievement Data" (PDF).  
  14. ^ "Year 12 Student Achievement Data" (PDF). Government of Western Australia. 2011. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  15. ^ "Year 12 Student Achievement Data" (PDF). Government of Western Australia. 2010. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "Year 12 Student Achievement Data" (PDF). Government of Western Australia. 2009. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Topsfield, Jewel (4 December 2010). "Ties that bind prove a private education has its awards". The Age. p. 11.  The hard copy article also published a table of the schools which were ranked in the top ten places in Australia, as follows: (1st with 19 awards) Scotch College, Melbourne, (2nd with 17 awards) Geelong Grammar School, (3rd with 13 awards) Sydney Boys High School, (equal 4th with 10 awards each) Fort Street High School, Perth Modern School and St Peter's College, Adelaide, (equal 7th with 9 awards each) Melbourne Grammar School, North Sydney Boys High School and The King's School, Parramatta, (equal 10th with 6 awards each) Launceston Grammar School, Melbourne High School, Wesley College, Melbourne and Xavier College.

Further reading

  • Sphinx Foundation (2005). Perth Modern School: The History and the Heritage. Cottesloe, WA: B+G Resource Enterprises; Sphinx Foundation.  
  • Woodman, Alison; Staaden, Ross (2011). Past, Present & Future: Celebrating 100 Years of Exceptional Education at Perth Modern School (1911-2011). Subiaco, WA: Perth Modern School P & C Association.  

External links

  • Perth Modern School Website
  • The Graduate College of Dance
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