Perth Modern School

Perth Modern School (colloquially known as Perth Mod, or simply "Mod") is a public co-educational academically selective high school, located in Subiaco, an inner city suburb of Perth, Western Australia. Perth Modern is Western Australia's only fully academically selective public school. Established in 1911, the school is both the oldest public high school and the oldest co-educational high school in Western Australia (WA).

Perth Modern School

Coordinates31°56′42″S 115°50′16″E
Other namePerth Mod
TypePublic co-educational academically selective high day school
MottoFrench: Savoir C'est Pouvoir
(Knowledge is Power)
Established1911 (1911)
PrincipalMitchell Mackay (Interim)
Enrolment1,455[1] (2022)
Campus typeUrban
Colour(s)    navy blue, gold & red
SongLatin: Moderna Scola (Modern School)
ATAR average96.45 (2021)
YearbookThe Sphinx
AlumniPerth Modernians
Official namePerth Modern School West Building including Main Hall
Designated21 March 1978
Reference no.10404[2]
Western Australia Heritage Register
TypeIndividual Building or Group
Designated14 December 2001
Reference no.2450
Child PlacesThomas Street State School Memorial Gates 13029
Old Modernians War Memorial & Honour Roll 15689


Planning and construction

Perth Modern School was the first government high school in WA. Although funds were allocated to build the school in 1907, the west building and main hall contract was not tendered until 1909 due to debate continuing for some time.[3]

Opening and academic scholarships

The school opened in 1911 with 226 students enrolled.[4] The school charged a fee of £6 a year. Students were prepared for entry to the University of Western Australia, which opened in 1913. Demand for places at the school was high and students came from all over WA. In 1912, the school began offering scholarships designed to encourage students to attend regardless of their financial situations.

Cecil Andrews, Inspector General of Schools, was responsible for naming the school and directing its school curriculum.

Educational concepts

When it opened, Perth Modern School introduced three concepts into WA education:[5]

  1. Co-education
  2. No corporal punishment, detention, or arbitrary/authoritative punishment
  3. The teaching of modern languages (such as French), and rejection of Classical studies as the core of the curriculum

Prior to Perth Modern School, the only high schools in WA were eight independent schools. These schools were sectarian, unisex, high fee paying schools, and only three catered for girls.[4]

Local-intake school and music scholarships

In 1958 Perth Modern School became a local-intake school, with no academic entrance requirements and accepting primarily students who lived nearby. In 1968 music became a focus of the school, with the first music scholarships awarded; the last intake of students on a music scholarship occurred in 2006. By 1970, the school orchestra was formed and the Joseph Parsons Memorial Library opened. A home for English as a second language was opened in the former Thomas Street Primary School located on the school grounds, and was run by Perth Modern School.[4]

Return to academic selection

In 2005, a return to academic selection was announced[4] so as to better serve the needs of WA's gifted students.[6] Perth Modern School began to take in students on the basis of academic selection in 2007 for years 8, 10 and 11.[4] By 2011 (the centenary of the school's opening) all students had been selected through the Gifted and Talented Program.[7] The gifted program in WA is based on Francois Gagne's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent.[8]


In 2012, Perth Modern became an Independent Public School.[9]

School structure

Despite the worldwide acceptance of corporal punishment in education at the time of the school's opening, as a tool to enforce authority, students were instead encouraged to develop self-discipline and motivation through the message that education was the key to future success. This is reflected through the motto "Savoir C'est Pouvoir" (Knowledge is Power) and the school emblem of the Sphinx (a reference to the character in Oedipus) which represented knowledge and wisdom.

Although Perth Modern has always been a co-educational school, when it initially opened in 1911, boys and girls were still kept apart in different classrooms and entrances. However, as a co-educational school, it was able to provide the same quality of education to girls as was provided to the boys of the school.[4]

House system

Perth Modern School was excluded by WA private schools from joining established interschool sporting competitions. In 1915, Red, Blue, Gold and Sphinx factions were created to promote sporting rivalry.[10] In 2007, a new house system was introduced to promote competition, recognition of achievement, and participation in extracurricular activities. The houses were named after the school's first four principals: Fredrick Brown, Joseph Parsons, Noel Sampson and Talbot Downing.[11] Awards are given to students who achieve a certain number of required house points.[11] Annually, the house which has achieved the most points is recognised as the Champion House.


All students attend Perth Modern School based on their performance in the Academic Selective Entrance Test,[12] which has been criticised for unfairly advantaging those from privileged backgrounds. Of 2,563 students who sat the test in order to begin schooling in 2020, 225 were accepted.[13]

In 2019, the school was criticised for its lack of socio-educationally disadvantaged students, with 98% of students coming from above-average socio-educational backgrounds, and for having no Indigenous Australian students.[13] Nationally, the school is the second most advantaged, behind only Sydney Grammar School.[13] This prompted calls for changes to the WA system for assessing and supporting gifted students, as the school should reflect the diversity of gifted people.[13] Myriad barriers to inclusivity at the school were noted, including its location in an affluent area and that many advantaged students access tutoring for the entrance test from early primary school.[13]


When the school first opened, students studied comprehensive science and modern languages as part of their courses, in addition to classical subjects.[5] Until 1928,[14] students attended Perth Modern for four years. The focus of the first two years was on basic subjects, whereas the final two years focused on a more diverse range of subjects. Students could choose from five streams: arts, science, education, commerce and agriculture.[4]

Today, the school primarily teaches based on the Australian Curriculum.

Performing arts


Perth Modern School hosts the independent Graduate College of Dance, from which a number of acclaimed high-profile dancers have graduated.[15] The Graduate College of Dance is a leading vocational dance school in Australia. The College prepares talented dancers aged 9 to 17 (year 5 to 12) for the dance profession. The college's comprehensive curriculum combines professional dance training with an academic education to tertiary level. The college is a private organisation requiring fees from applicants, enrolled students at Perth Modern School and private students from elsewhere. The Department of Education and Training previously accommodated the Graduate College of Dance at 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.[16]


Perth Modern's music programme is available to all enrolled students. Previously, to be accepted into the music program, students were selected after completing 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 five 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 WA, having been first formed in 1915


Perth Modern presents a biennial musical production featuring live music performed by students. The first production was in 2014, and was a production of 'The Wizard of Oz'. This was followed by 'High School Musical' in 2016, 'Little Shop of Horrors' in 2018, 'Grease' in 2020 and 'Legally Blonde' in 2022. Perth Modern also put on a variety of other productions throughout each school year, for the year 10, 11 & 12 drama classes.


List of buildings

In 2013 the school’s buildings were renamed after several people who had made significant contributions to the school.[17] The school campus consists of the following buildings and centres, notable either in their own right or due to their namesake:

Building name Opened Main use Namesake Notes
Andrews Building1961 Administration, mathematics, science, gymnasiums Cecil Andrews, the WA Inspector General of Schools when Perth Modern opened
Beasley Building1911 Auditorium, humanities and social sciences, music Hillson Beasley, the building's architect Original building of Perth Modern School.
Gardham Building 2009 Design and technology Walter Amos Gardham, the founding Manual Training Teacher[18] from 1911 to 1930
Mills Building 2009 Visual arts, languages, food science, multimedia/computer science Frank Mills, a senior art teacher[19] from 1939 to 1957
Parsons Building 2009 Cafeteria, lecture theatre, library Joseph Parsons, the Headmaster of Perth Modern School from 1912 to 1939 The Library replaced the Joseph Parsons Memorial Library, which was demolished in 2009.
Stokes Building 1904 English J P Stokes, the headmaster at Thomas Street Primary School from 1949 to 1951 and principal of Perth Modern from 1972 to 1979 Originally West Perth School (1904-1906) and then Thomas Street Primary School (1906-1979).[20]
Tyler McCusker Sports Centre 2015 Assembly area, gymnasium Malcolm McCusker and Don Tyler, alumni who made significant donations to the building's construction[21]
Cyril Tyler Auditorium 2021 Music, Drama and Dance performances. With Modernian Don Tyler once again making a significant donation to another one of Perth Modern's building projects, Don was given the choice of what it was to be named. Don chose to name it after his stepfather, Cyril, who raised him from a young age after his biological father died when Don was just 28 days old.[22] Finished construction.[23] The project planning and funding has received some criticism.


Until 2013, the Beasley building was known as the West building. At the time of its construction from 1909 to 1911, the building was Perth Modern's first and only building. The new school was built on land which was formerly part of the northern common in Subiaco, which had been set aside for education purposes. This land was 4 hectares (10 acres) in area and was located between Subiaco and Mueller Roads (later renamed Roberts Road), 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 WA. By 1911, the building was completed for the sum of £18,974.[5]


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 west building is linked by a covered walkway to the third heritage listed wing. 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 from 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 with 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 with staircases at each end.[5] 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.[3]

Refurbishment and heritage listing

The west building was refurbished during the late 1980s and the work was recognised and received several awards. The west building and main hall had interim registration by the Heritage Council of WA in 1992, and it entered the State Registry of Historical Places in 2001. The building was included on the basis of aesthetics and by the number of notable alumni who hailed from these doors.[3]

Andrews building

Andrews building, as seen from Roberts Rd

Prior to 2013, the Andrews Building was known as the East building. The East building and older gymnasium were built around 1958, when Perth Modern became a local-intake school. 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 (opened 2009) joins and provides lift access to the east building.[3]

War memorial

The Old Modernians War Memorial was unveiled on 22 October 1922 to commemorate the service of ex-students in World War I. During the war, 186 Modernians enlisted, 29 of whom lost their lives as a result of their service. The names of 24 Modernians are recorded on the monument. Five names are recorded on a plinth added to the monument in 2020. The memorial was designed by William Hardwick, the Principal Architect of WA in 1920, and it is located between the Beasley building and the oval.[24] Details of the students' military service are recorded on the school's website.

City Beach Residential College

Housing at the College

Students from regional areas can board at City Beach Residential College. The college is located in City Beach, next to the International School of Western Australia. It is the only boarding facility for students of public schools in metropolitan Perth. It can accommodate up to 66 boarders from rural WA. However, it is not exclusively for Perth Modern students; students who are enrolled in selective gifted and talented programs in metropolitan Perth public schools (mainly John Curtin College of the Arts and Perth Modern School) can board there.[25] As of 2018 the College accommodates 56 students.[26]

Raise the Roof campaign

In 2016, the 'Raise the Roof' fundraising campaign was launched to raise funds to build a 700-seat auditorium.[27] The campaign was criticised by members of the school’s community. In 2016, students were suspended for criticising the principal via cartoons and social media.[28] Their criticisms arose from funds advertised as being raised for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation being partially used for the Raise the Roof project.[28] In 2017 an independent review of the project, initiated by the Department of Education, was published.[29][30][31] The review was prompted by a letter sent to the Department’s Director-General by 10 of the 15 board members, describing a loss of confidence in the principal, Lois Joll, due to a lack of consultation on issues including Raise the Roof.[29][30][31] The review found fault on both sides,[29][30][31] and requested that the Department of Education clarify the role of school boards and appropriate fund allocation.[30] The Director-General chose to keep Joll as principal, describing her as "highly competent".[29][30][31] Over the following four months, five members of the school board resigned, including Erica Smyth and the former P&C president.[31] In 2019, the fundraising target to build 500 seats was reached. The Education Department subsequently organised a tender for the first stage of construction.[32] Construction ceremonially began in May 2020, with the building officially opening on September 11 2021.[23]

Heads of school

The following individuals have served as either Headmaster or Principal of Perth Modern School:

[^] denotes an interim headmaster/principal:

TitleOfficeholderTerm datesNotes
HeadmasterFredrick Brown1911–1912[33]
Joseph Parsons1912–1939
Noel Sampson1940–1958
Talbot Downing1964–1965
William Speering1966–1971
Joseph Stokes1972–1979
Thomas Byers1980–1991
Eric Alcock1992–1999[35]
Robyn White2000–2010[36][37]
Lois Joll2011–2021
Mike Morgan^2021–2022 [38]
Mitchell Mackay2022–

Academic achievements

Perth Modern students consistently perform well in the Western Australian Certificate of Education school rankings. Since 2016, the year 12 cohorts have produced the highest median ranking when compared to the rest of the schools in WA (refer table below).

Since 2011, year 12 students' results in WA are reported as an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. Perth Modern students achieved the highest all-time median ATAR score for Western Australia in 2018.[13] The record was raised again by Perth Modern students in 2020.[39]

Western Australia ATAR student performance

Year Rank Median ATAR Eligible students Students with ATAR % Students with ATAR

Beazley Medal winners

Since 1984, a Beazley Medal has been presented to the top ranked academic student in WA each year. As of 2022, seven Perth Modern Students have won the award:

  • 2022: Jessica Doan[46]
  • 2021: Lawrence Nheu[47]
  • 2018: Pooja Ramesh[48]
  • 2016: Caitlin Revell[49]
  • 2015: Hui Min Tay[50]
  • 2014: Jamin Wu[51]
  • 2010: Michael Taran[52]

Notable alumni

Perth Modern School alumni are known as Perth Modernians. 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 and was the top ranked WA school.[53] Fourteen Perth Modernians have won Rhodes Scholarships from the University of Western Australia.[54]

Notable Perth Modernians include:

See also


  1. "Student Numbers - Trends". Western Australian Department of Education. Retrieved 13 June 2022.
  2. "Australian Heritage Database". Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  3. "Perth Modern School" (PDF). Register of Heritage Places - Assessment Documentation. Heritage Council of Western Australia . 14 December 2001. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  4. "Perth Modern School | Information | History & Tradition". Perth Modern. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  5. "Perth Modern School West Building including Main Hall". Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  6. "DET WA Gifted and Talented"
  7. Borrello, Eliza (16 February 2011). "Perth Modern returns to its roots". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  8. NSW AGTC: Francois Gagne's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent
  9. "Perth Modern School Today | Perth Modernian Society". Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  10. "Perth Modern School History and Tradition". Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  11. "Information Handbook" (PDF). 2017.
  12. "Academic programs - The Department of Education". Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  13. "At WA's top public school, there are virtually no disadvantaged kids". 8 July 2019. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  14. "Goodes, Joyce (1916-1990) - People and organisations". Trove. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  15. "ALUMNI & ACHIEVEMENTS / WHERE DID THEY GO?". The Graduate College of Dance. Perth, WA: The Graduate College of Dance. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  16. Ravlich, Ljiljanna (14 September 2006). "Perth Modern School - Music and Ballet Scholarship Programs" (PDF). Hansard. Perth, WA: Parliament of Western Australia. Retrieved 23 March 2015.
  17. "The Perth Modernian e-Newsletter" (PDF). 5 March 2013.
  18. "Welcome Walls: GARDHAM, Walter & Amanda". Western Australian Museum. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  19. "Rolf reveals the secret to his success". PerthNow. 11 September 2011. Retrieved 21 January 2021.
  21. "Media Statements - New sports facility for Perth Modern School". Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  22. "Unveiling the Cyril Tyler Auditorium". Facebook. 20 October 2020. Retrieved 27 February 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. "Perth Modern Newsletter April 2020".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. Sphinx Foundation (2005). Perth Modern School: The History and the Heritage. Cottesloe, WA: B+G Resource Enterprises; Sphinx Foundation. pp. 314–8.
  25. "Map detail - AUSTRALIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS ASSOCIATION". Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  26. "City Beach Residential College". Community News Group. 5 February 2018. Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  27. "Raise the Roof" (PDF). 12 August 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 August 2018. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  28. Bethany, Hiatt (13 August 2016). "Ban for making fun of principal". The West Australian. Retrieved 23 December 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  29. "Perth Modern School principal under pressure after board declares no confidence". ABC News (Australia). 25 October 2017. Retrieved 23 December 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  30. Hiatt, Bethany (25 October 2017). "Perth Modern board in push to remove school's principal Lois Joll". PerthNow. Retrieved 23 December 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  31. Trigger, Rebecca; Mayes, Andrea (15 February 2018). "More members of Perth Modern school board resign after auditorium row". ABC News (Australia). Retrieved 23 December 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  32. "Perth Modern School news Apr 2019" (PDF).
  33. "School Teachers of Western Australia". Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  34. "School Teachers of Western Australia". Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  35. Woodman, Alison (April 2017). "The Perth Modernian Society".
  36. "Perth Modern School Welcomes New Principal" (PDF). Perth Modern School News. 20 February 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 February 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  37. Styles, Aja (2 December 2021). "Perth Modern principal accused of 'siphoning' education money to auditorium, with science in tatters". WAtoday. Retrieved 15 June 2022.
  38. "Lois Joll and associate principal Val Furphy stood aside after investigation". The West Australian. 22 November 2021. Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  39. Pilat, Lauren (23 December 2020). "'Not just academics, mindfulness too': How Perth's top-ranking high school broke state records". WAtoday. Retrieved 25 December 2020.
  40. "WA School Ranking - 2021". Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  41. "WA School Ranking - 2020". Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  42. "WA School Ranking - 2019". Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  43. "WA School Ranking - 2018". Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  44. "WA School Ranking - 2017". Better Education. 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  45. "WA School Ranking - 2016". Better Education. 2016. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  46. Burton, Jesinta (21 December 2022). "Meet WA's two top students: A future doctor and an aspiring entrepreneur". WAtoday. Retrieved 27 December 2022.
  47. Thompson, Holly (22 December 2021). "WA's top students for 2021 recognised in prestigious awards". WAtoday. Retrieved 24 December 2021.
  48. "Meet WA's top students for 2018". The West Australian. 21 December 2018. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  49. McNeill, Heather (30 December 2016). "WA's top secondary students awarded Beazley Medals". WAtoday. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  50. "Perth Modern School student Hui Min Tay wins Beazley Medal". The West Australian. 31 December 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  51. Harradine, Natasha (2 January 2015). "Public school students take out top honours in WA". ABC News. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  52. Styles, Aja (6 January 2011). "Public school boy a Beazley Medal winner". WAtoday. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  53. 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 honour since 1975.
  54. "Western Australian Rhodes Scholars". University of Western Australia. Archived from the original (doc) on 7 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  55. McEvoy, Marc (25 March 2015). "One Day of the Year that changed writer Alan Seymour's life". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 August 2021.

Further reading

  • The Sphinx Foundation Inc (2005). Perth Modern School: The History and the Heritage. Cottesloe, WA: B+G Resource Enterprises; Sphinx Foundation Inc. ISBN 9781920715953.
  • 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. ISBN 9780646557847.

Media related to Perth Modern School at Wikimedia Commons

"Perth Modern School Digital Honour Board". PMS DHB.

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