Our School - School History

Coburg Primary School started out in May 1853 as a tent school in a small rural village then known as Pentridge, during what official correspondence of the time dubbed ‘the emergency’ ie the Victorian gold rush era. Such were the huge stresses and strains placed upon government services caused by the massive influx of gold seekers that it took ten months of wrangling just to purchase and erect the tent!

After three and a half months the students of Pentridge National School, as it was then officially known, together with their 20 year old English headmaster, transferred into a small wooden schoolhouse, having endured most of the winter spent under canvas.

Towards the end of the year, with student numbers rapidly approaching 200, a teacher assistant had to be employed and discussions had already begun, concerning the need for two extra classrooms to alleviate the overcrowded conditions. Unfortunately, there was no money available at the time to act on this proposal.

By mid-November 1855 the school building was being described by the chairman of Local Patrons as ‘a mass of dilapidation’ and ‘a disgrace to Pentridge’. Adding to the urgency for a new schoolhouse was the re-opening in April 1856 of the Anglican Church school on the corner of Urquhart Street and Sydney Road. The competition between these two schools to attract as many students as possible in order to remain financially viable reflected a larger rivalry between those that supported the Denominational system and those in favour of the National model.

To the relief of the latter group work began in late 1857 on a more permanent building, which had brick walls, a slate roof and bluestone foundations. This third version of Pentridge National School opened on July 8th the following year and was located within the eastern side of the present’s days senior school assembly area.

In September 1862 when the Victorian government replaced the two rival education boards, Denominational and National, with one board the school became the Pentridge Common School. Increasing enrolments during this decade led to the construction of a building in 1867 of the same design as the first to which it was adjoined. The building was located to the western side of the present day’s senior school assembly area. Three years later in 1870 the people behind the campaign to rename the locality known as Pentridge, a word that had become synonymous with the colony’s infamous central penitentiary, celebrated when the change of name to that of Coburg was officially recognised. Hence the Pentridge Common School became Coburg Common School. However, this title soon changed yet again, when the Victorian parliament passed a bill making primary education compulsory, free and secular in 1872

Coburg State School as it was now called continued to grow in student numbers; so much so that a third brick building was erected in front of the previous two school rooms in 1874. With its single storey façade and its slate tiled roof, it was by far the most impressive school building to front Bell Street up to that time.

A decade later an additional gothic style brick building was constructed in front of the middle section of the previous building. It was two storeys high and was topped by a tall metal spire. When the remodelling work began on the senior school site in 1924 only this addition was retained while the other three older structures were demolished to make way for the present building.

However, before this occurred (back in the 1890s), pressure began to grow for the construction of yet another school to accommodate the increasing numbers of younger children. Unfortunately it was to be almost 20 years before the problem was seriously addressed. It was the year 1907 that saw the first moves to provide an Infant building for the youngest students of Coburg state school. After delays caused by difficulties surrounding the choice of the most appropriate site, the infant school was officially opened on November 30th, 1910 on the southern side of Bell Street. In 1911 a circular wooden shelter shed was built.

While the buildings on the Infant side were a source of pride to the school community, the same could not be said of the senior side. By 1920 the condition of the senior school was described as scandalous, thus a request was sent to the Education Department to completely remodel the building. Only the two storey addition of 1884 survived the subsequent remodelling work of 1924. The school was finally opened on November 19th 1925.

The fourteen years from 1924 to 1938 marked the peak period for enrolments with the number of pupils attending always in excess of 1,000. It was only during the Second World War that the student population began to slowly decline. By the time Coburg State School became Coburg Primary School in 1971 less than 600 children’s names appeared on the school roll. Throughout the eighties and nineties the steady decrease in enrolments continued, caused by demographic changes that affected many other schools in Melbourne.

The school today has an enrolment of around 300 students and is on the rise once again due to the gentrification of the surrounding suburbs.