The first permanent Government school opened in make-shift premises in 1848. Known as York Colonial School, it provided an education for only 25 boys, girls having no access to formal education until 1851.
In 1854, a school house with separate quarters was erected in Howick Street. Catering for both girls and boys, it was initially known as York Mixed School. However, in 1860 the girls were relocated to Avon Terrace and the Howick Street site was renamed York Boys’ School.
By 1886, the railway line had been built through York and the Gold Rush was looming. The population had greatly increased and York Boys’ School had outgrown its premises. A new building, designed by Government architect George Temple Poole, was built on the same site, incorporating the existing building which became the infants’ and girls’ school. The new school had separate entrances for boys and girls and a fence separated the girls’ playground from that of the boys. It was operational by 1888.
Continued population growth meant that the school quickly outgrew its premises and, around 1891, the girls moved back to York Girls’ School in Avon Terrace. It was not until 1898, when new staff quarters and more classrooms were built, that the York Girls’ School moved back to Howick Street and was finally amalgamated with the York Boys’ School to become York Government School. 170 students were enrolled.
Over the following years, the school population continued to grow. Extra classrooms and facilities were added in the 1920s but, by 1945, the Department was hiring halls around town to house the overflow of students. Playground space was also limited. The need for a new school became more and more urgent but was hampered by a lack of funds and political will.
By 1947 the school was also catering for secondary students and John Tonkin, then Minister for Education, promised a junior high school would be built in York. In 1952, the status of York Primary School was changed to York Junior High School, but it was not until 1959, after local protests and much discussion about extending the Howick Street site, that tenders were finally called for a new school to be built in Forrest Street. Consisting initially of 2 classrooms, it was opened on October 30th 1959. By 1963, more classrooms had been added and all secondary students were housed at the new site. A library resource centre was built in 1973 and an administration block followed in 1979 with the main entrance off Trews Road.
Primary students remained at Howick Street until 1987, when Years 6 and 7 moved to the Forrest Street site due to increased numbers in the primary school. York District High School was officially opened on April 4th 1987, but the school continued to operate across various sites.
In 1998, after much lobbying by the P&C, new buildings were built in Forrest Street to house the remainder of the primary school. The Howick Street site finally closed at the end of the year and, in 1999, all students from Kindergarten to Year 10 began school on one site for the first time, housed in teaching blocks named after some of York’s early one- teacher rural schools.
Further additions, in the form of a new primary classroom block and an Arts building, have since been added to accommodate a growing population and a more extensive curriculum.
York P&C Association, “From Early Beginnings-A History of York’s Schools.” 1981.
Palassis Architects, “York Primary School Conservation Plan.” 2000.