CHEAT SHEET: What You Should Know About Sydney's Top Private Schools

‘Private School Girl’ Ja’mie King. Credit: ABC

It’s not unusual in Sydney business circles to be asked about the secondary school you attended.

The question – raised by business leaders in our Unauthorised Rules For Doing Business In Australia – generally is intended as a conversation-starter, so it’s an idea to have some material to work with.

Australia’s “outrageous” private school culture is satirised in ABC’s popular TV series “Private School Girl” but the reality is, private schools – especially boys’ schools – graduate a large number of business and political leaders in Sydney.

Last week, St James Ethics Centre executive director and Knox alumnus Simon Longstaff blamed the closed, entitled culture for holding women back in the workplace.

We’ve put together a non-exhaustive list of some of the top private boys’ and girls’ schools in Sydney, based on the names that get bandied around the business community. Here’s what you should know.

Sydney Grammar School

Despite its motto ('Laus Deo': praise be to god), Sydney Grammar School is a non-denominational, all-boys day school that is well-known for strong academic results.

Grammar consistently scores among the top selective public high schools by academic performance, thanks in part to its selective entrance exam and awarding of 24 academic scholarships a year.

The boys also do well in music and chess.

It is located in the University of Sydney's founding campus in Darlinghurst; boys may duck out into the CBD for fast-food lunches.

Old Sydneians include Malcolm Turnbull, David Gonski, former Leighton boss Wal King, Westfield sons David, Peter and Steven Lowy (the latter two are now co-CEOs), and TPG sons Shane, Jack, Bob and John Teoh, who recently established start-up incubator and co-working space PS1875.

St Aloysius' College

St Aloysius is a Jesuit catholic day school for boys in Milson's Point on Sydney's lower north shore.

The school's motto is 'Born for Greater Things' (Ad Majora Natus) and it counts Treasurer Joe Hockey and former Commonwealth Bank CEO David Murray as alumni.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is often named as a St. Aloysius old boy; he attended the primary school but completed his secondary school education at St Ignatius.

In contrast to other private schools, St Aloysius specifically states that it is 'not a full-fee paying overseas students school' and requires all applicants either to be permanent residents or come from families with current working visas for Australia.

It is academically selective, and also looks out for boys whose homes have similar attitudes, values and priorities as the school and who will participate in extra-curricular activities.

Abbotsleigh School for Girls

Abbotsleigh is a selective, Anglican day and boarding school for girls in Wahroonga on Sydney's upper north shore.

Prospective students have only one shot at the entrance exam; the school also offers 3 music scholarships, indigenous scholarships and 10 academic scholarships that are awarded on the basis of merit or need.

Abbotsleigh consistently scores among the top selective public high schools by academic performance. Girls also participate in a combined youth orchestra with nearby boys' school Knox.

Since 1885, Abbotsleigh has gone by the motto 'Tempus Celerius Radio Fugit', which translates to 'Time Flies Faster Than The Weaver's Shuttle'. Some have called for the motto to be changed to one with less of domestic focus.

Alumni include model and BRW Young Rich Lister Erica Baxter, KPMG partner and deputy chairman Liz Forsyth, and Sunrise weather presenter Edwina Bartholomew.

Ascham School

Ascham is a non-denominational day and boarding school for girls in Edgecliff in Sydney's wealthy eastern suburbs. Despite its non-selective enrolment policy, Ascham ranks among the top selective public and private high schools by academic performance.

Ascham is one of the few schools globally to educate students according to the Dalton Plan, which promotes self-directed learning with a combination of formal and informal lessons.

It offers a range of academic, music, 'all-round' and means-tested scholarships, with scholarship holders reviewed each year.

Alumni join the Old Girls' Union and include Rio Tinto infrastructure vice president Helen Newell, Macquarie Funds Group CEO Shemara Wikramanayake and former ACP editor-in-chief and Mamamia founder Mia Freedman.

Ascham takes girls on international language, cultural study and sports tours and also has international exchange programs with 12 schools in France, Germany, the UK, South Africa, China, Canada, the US and Argentina.

Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore)

Shore is a non-selective Anglican day and boarding school in North Sydney. Boys are divided into 13 houses and 4 boarding houses for sports and other team activities.

Shore's sister school is SCEGGS, but the boys are said to have a rapport with girls from the nearby Wenona private school, thanks in part to its strong performing arts program.

Old boys include former Woolworths CEO and former RBA board member Roger Corbett, Hamilton & Co founder Robert James Hamilton and Michael Hawker, who played in 25 Rugby Union Internationals for the Wallabies before he became CEO of insurer IAG.

SCEGGS Darlinghurst

SCEGGS, formerly known as the Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School, is a non-selective, all-girls, Anglican day and boarding school on the outskirts of the Sydney CBD.

The school performs well in academic tests and offers a range of academic, music, indigenous, boarding and 'all-round' scholarships as well as a means-tested science scholarship named after almunus and award-winning nuclear physicist Joan Freeman.

Alumni may join the Old Girls' Union and SCEGGS Professional Alumni Network (SPAN), with the latter intended to facilitate networking and provide 'professional contacts for support and mentoring'.

Old girls include Carnival Australia CEO Ann Sherry, celebrity fitness coach Amelia Burton, former Coalition minister Kay Patterson, the late author and swimmer Margaret Dovey who married former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1942 and biographer Josephine Blanche d'Alpuget who married former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke in 1995.

Wenona School

Wenona is a non-denominational, non-selective girls' school in North Sydney. It caters to day girls and boarders, and its principal is alumnus Dr Briony Scott, wife of ABC managing director Mark Scott.

The school offers a range of co-curricular programs, including performing arts, outdoor education, debating and sports. Girls may also be involved in drama productions with the nearby Shore boys' school.

Unlike at many other private schools, neither music or sport are compulsory extracurricular activities for Wenona's secondary school students.

Old girls join Wenonians Inc, and include Australia's ambassador to Ireland Dr Ruth Adler, High Court Justice Annabelle Bennett, model April Rose Pengilly and Vogue Australia editor-in-chief Edwina McCann.

Student Madeleine Pulver made headlines in 2011 when an intruder broke into her home and placed a fake collar bomb around her neck in an extortion attempt. Her father, Bill Pulver, is CEO of the Australian Rugby Union.

The Scots College

Scots is a non-selective Presbyterian day and boarding school in Bellevue Hill in Sydney's wealthy east.

The school made headlines this month when rivals accused it of breaking the GPS code of practice by paying to recruit star basketball players.

Scots otherwise has a reasonable sporting reputation.

All year 9 boys are required to spend 6 months living on its 'Glengarry' outdoor education campus in the Kangaroo Valley.

More than 200 boys also don kilts to play in the Scots College pipe band, the Scots College Pipes and Drums, which participated in the 2012 Queen's Diamond Jubilee Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo.

Old boys include high-profile paediatric neurosurgeon Charlie Teo, who topped the Reader's Digest Australia's Most Trusted People 2013 list, Appliances Online founder John Winning, and Channel 10 presenter Tim Webster.

St Joseph's College

Joeys is a Catholic school in Hunters Hill, on the lower north shore. About three-quarters of its students are boarders.

The school has one of the top two rugby teams in the state and graduates an incredible number of professional sportsmen who go on to play for the NSW Waratahs and Wallabies, including former captain Steve Williams.

It has a strong old boy network and offers a number of means-based scholarships for indigenous students and those from rural and regional areas.

The Kings School

Based in Parramatta in Sydney's west, Kings is an Anglican day and boarding school with a unique, military uniform with jackets that that may be modified to show academic and sporting achievements and rank in the Australian Army Cadets.

True to its military tradition, Kings requires all year 9 and 10 boys to participate in the cadet corps and an annual Cadet Camp at the Singleton Defence Force Base.

Kings has an excellent rugby team and graduates scores of elite Australian athletes.

Old boys include four Wallabies captains, three Malaysian princes (brothers Syed Zainal Anwar, Syed Zainal Azni and Syed Zainal Rashid), and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn of Thailand.

Queenwood School for Girls

Non-selective Christian girls' school Queenwood caters predominantly to affluent Mosman families on Sydney's lower north shore.

It's a relatively small day and boarding school; students are split into just three houses for sport and other team activities.

Alumni join the Queenwood Old Girls' Association and include NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's chief of staff Anna McPhee and public servant and 2005 Telstra businesswoman of the year Suzanne Vardon.

Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview

Saint Ignatius is a non-selective, Jesuit Catholic day and boarding school that occupies a sprawling, green campus in the lower north shore suburb of Riverview.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who attended the Jesuit St. Aloysius primary school, transferred to Riverview where he completed year 12 in 1975.

A group of current Riverview students sent Abbott a petition of 450 signatures against his asylum seeker policy in the lead up to the Federal Election earlier this year.

Riverview alumni join the Old Ignatians Union and include agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce, NSW supreme court chief justice Tom Bathurst, former NSW premier Nick Greiner, and NSW DET director-general Michael Coutts-Trotter, who is married to deputy ALP leader Tanya Plibersek.

The school has a strong debating team.

It also has its own observatory, and counts among its old boys Paul Scully-Power, who became a US citizen in 1982 and was chosen by NASA to be a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger 1984, making him the first Australia-born astronaut.

Knox

Based in an ivy-covered campus in the Upper North Shore suburb of Wahroonga, Knox is a Christian day and boarding school whose motto insists that 'the manly thing is being done' ('Virile Agitur').

Knox is a founding member of the Combined Associated Schools, and competes against the five other members - St. Aloysius, Barker College, Cranbrook, Trinity Grammar and Waverley College - in sports.

The school came under the media spotlight in 2009, when five former Knox teachers faced criminal charges for alleged sex offences between 1976 and 1990.

In a 2011 article, alumnus and Walkley Award winning journalist Malcolm Knox wrote that Knox was 'a changed place', requiring boarding masters to be married and their wives to be involved in boarding house activities.

Other old boys include former prime minister Gough Whitlam, actor Hugo Weaving, ABC managing director Mark Scott (whose wife is Wenona principal and alumnus Briony Scott), Macquarie Bank chairman David Clarke, Simon Longstaff of the St James Ethics Centre, and Rod McGeoch, who led Sydney's bid to host the 2000 Olympics.

Loreto Kirribilli

The Loreto Kirribilli student executive with Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce

Located in the lower north shore suburb of Milsons Point, Loreto Kirribilli is a selective, Roman Catholic day school for girls.

Applications from baptised Catholics are given preference, with a parish reference required at the time of interview.

Alumni include Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore and Opera Australia soprano Amelia Farrugia.

Ravenswood

Ravenswood is a non-selective, Christian day and boarding girls' school in the upper north shore suburb of Gordon with the motto 'Always Towards Better Things' (Semper Ad Meliora).

Girls joining the school from Year 3 upwards are required to attend an interview prior to being accepted. The school also offers a number of academic, music, boarding and 'all-rounder' scholarships.

Ravenswood is a relatively small school, with girls divided into four houses - named Stuart, Tudor, Windsor and York for the British royal houses - for sports and other team activities.

Old girls join the Ravenswood Old Girls’ Union (ROGU) and include the RBA's longest-serving board member, Jillian Broadbent, who retired in May, former prime minister John Howard's daughter Melanie Howard, TV host Gretel Killeen, and former James Hardie and AMP Life chairman Merideth Hellicar.

Cranbrook School

Cranbrook is a non-selective Anglican day and boarding school in Bellevue Hill, in the wealthy eastern suburbs.

The school's motto is 'Esse Quam Videri', which means 'to be rather than to seem to be'.

Cranbrook alumni include James Fairfax, Kerry Packer and son James Packer, Wizard Home Loans founder Mark Bouris and One.Tel founder Jodee Rich.

Barker College

Barker is an Anglican day and boarding school that is boys-only until year 9, and co-ed from year 10 onwards. It occupies a 50-acre campus in the upper north shore suburb of Hornsby.

Barker made headlines in 2004 when photos of student and part-time model Francesca Willis went viral.

Actor and comedian Chris Lilley, creator of Summer Heights High and the spin-off show Ja'mie, Private School Girl, is a graduate of Barker and studied drama there.

Alumni join the Old Barker Association and include former Telstra chairman and former McDonalds Australia CEO Bob Mansfield, film director Philip Noyce, retired independent MP Rob Oakeshott and former Labor education minister Peter Garrett.

Roseville College

Roseville is a non-selective Anglican girls' school in the eponymous suburb on Sydney's lower north shore.

The school climbed steadily up academic ranking tables under principal Briony Scott's leadership from 2006. Scott, who attended Wenona in North Sydney, is now principal at her old school.

Roseville alumni join the Old Girls Network and include former Jeanswest model Chloe Maxwell and Channel 9 presenter Amelia Adams.

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