King's celebrates the 40th anniversary of admitting girls - and say it's been a win-win.

It might have been a controversial move at the time but the advent of female students attending South Auckland's King's College will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.

While opening up the then 84-year-old boys' school to girls initially ruffled a few feathers, today female students are an integral and valuable part of the school environment.

Headmaster Simon Lamb says female students now make up nearly a quarter of the school's total roll - and about a third of senior-level students.

"The school was established in 1896 and had been male-dominated, but the thinking in 1980 was around equality and opportunities we could give to girls attending the school," Lamb says.

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Initially female students were able to attend only in the last two years of secondary schooling (formerly sixth and seventh form, now years 12 and 13). Since 2016 girls have been able to start at year 11 and complete all three years of senior schooling at the college.

That's increased the number of female students to around 225 of the school's roll of 1100: "We had significant interest in the offering of girls starting at year 11 four years ago. There was clearly a demand, so we've been very pleased," says Lamb.

Starting female students in year 11 means they have continuity throughout the three years of NCEA but also gives them access to the full three-year Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) programme. Lamb says the dual offering of NCEA and Cambridge is one of the attractions of the college to parents of female students.

"Offering our students the choice to study NCEA, CIE or, on an individual basis, a combination of both, means King's is able to provide personalised learning pathways that allow every student to achieve their academic goals and give them the strongest possible foundation for their future," says Lamb.

"The opportunity for girls to attend King's for three years also allows for a greater depth of involvement in sports teams, music and cultural groups."

King’s College student Sophie Adams competes at the annual school Athletics Day. Photo / Supplied
King’s College student Sophie Adams competes at the annual school Athletics Day. Photo / Supplied

Lamb says parents and new students are also attracted by the co-educational environment, "which brings a lot of a healthy competition and intellectual rigour. It provides a very balanced senior school experience that prepares them well for the world beyond school".

As part of the school's new health, fitness and wellbeing strategy, to be introduced this year, there will be some mixed-gender sports teams.

The increase in the number of girls attending King's has meant the establishment of a second girls' day house, Marion Bruce, from 2020. The school's other girls' day house is Taylor, and it also has a girls' boarding house, Middlemore.

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Marion Bruce is named after one of the college's longest serving female staff members. Bruce was the sister-in-law of the college's founder, Graham Bruce, and inherited his property at Remuera Rd where the school was originally run (now King's School), as well as teaching there. In all, she spent more than 25 years with King's.

"She was a significant part of the school's history and it is good to be able to recognise that," Lamb says.

Headmaster Simon Lamb and Old Collegian Stacy Gregg, pictured at the presentation of her Honours Tie. Photo / Supplied
Headmaster Simon Lamb and Old Collegian Stacy Gregg, pictured at the presentation of her Honours Tie. Photo / Supplied

More than 2000 young women have graduated from King's over the past 40 years and the school will be celebrating the anniversary with a gala ball on May 2. In June, the King's College Old Collegians Association also appointed its first female president: general practitioner Julyan Lawry, who attended King's from 1986–87 and was dux of the college.

Among other distinguished female alumni are Judge Sarah Reeves, daughter of the late Sir Paul Reeves, who was among the school's first intake in 1980. Reeves, who has Te Atiawa heritage, practised as a lawyer before being sworn in as a judge of the Maori Land Court in 2010.

Writer Stacey Gregg boarded at Middlemore House in 1985–86, before starting her career in journalism and book writing, with her popular pony-themed stories helping to make her HarperCollins New Zealand's third best-selling children's author of all time.

A more recent ex-pupil is Grace Freeman, who completed three years as a day pupil in Taylor House at the end of 2019. Freeman was named in the squad for Auckland women's representative rugby team the Storm while still at King's, while also playing club rugby for College Rifles, where she was named the Premier Women's Player of the Year.

Freeman is undertaking a degree in design at university in 2020 and hopes to earn selection for the Black Ferns.

Lamb says having female students at King's benefits both sides of the equation: the girls can access the education and facilities of the college but also bring their unique qualities to the student body.

"They have a lot to offer. The girls who come to King's are quite entrepreneurial and keen to take advantage of the opportunities the school has to offer, and of being in a new environment. We're delighted to have them."