The building of the Model School in 1873-4 and the Training School in 1875-6 reflected a new educational philosophy. In 1859, part of Town Acre 329 was bought but there were no funds to build a school. In 1872 the Education Board suggested that models schools would better meet the colony’s needs than would a teacher training institution. The board believed there would be a greater benefit from a structure that “should be a pattern for every public school in the colony”.
A design competition held in 1872 was won by Edward John Woods. The school was designed for utility rather than as an imposing exterior. The South Australian Register commenting that it was extremely plain, presenting a “solid though not heavy appearance”.
It was built in 1873-74 by T. Martin and Son in the Gothic style, with gables and gablets. It was of one storey with its main frontage to Grote Street, and constructed of bluestone masonry with brick quoins.
Inside, the school was divided into three separate sections for boys, girls and infants. The main schoolrooms – those for boys and girls – were 70 feet by 24 feet and the infant classroom was 40 feet by 20 feet. Between the two large schoolrooms was an arcade paved with slate. This was meant to keep the classrooms cool and to provide a sheltered walk. A turret in the centre of the roof held a bronze bell with a sonorous tone. There was increasing concern for public health at the time and much attention was paid to ventilation. This was reported as “very complete. Shafts for the exit of impure air pass from the ceiling up through the roof, while a good supply of fresh air is admitted by apertures below the wall plate.”
The school could hold 600 pupils, with boys in the western wing and girls in the eastern wing. A substantial stone wall with brick coping and piers surrounded it.
There were minor alterations in 1892 and 1908. The two main classrooms were divided into three smaller ones, and new classrooms were added to each wing at the rear. By 1908 when it had become Adelaide High School, there were 13 classrooms.
The building was severely damaged by fire in mid-1987 and major repairs were needed.
Despite the replacement of the tall narrow double windows on the eastern and western walls, the Model School is a fine example of an early school built by the government.
The school and its neighbour, the former Training School, are a record of the earliest attempts to standardise education methods and principles before 1875, when the Education Act (compulsory primary school education) was passed and the government began a school building program in earnest.
Alongside these two is another historically significant school building, the Advanced School for Girls. This was the first secondary school built by the government for girls.