The Council of Education was prepared to set up a school if enough parents responded to its advertisement. It received 33 names of potential scholars, and found temporary accommodation in a doctor’s two-storey home on Franklin Street. The school opened there on October 7, 1879, with Miss Jane Staines as headmistress.
At first this school was the colonial government’s only contribution to secondary education. Boys were not provided for until 1908, although there were some government scholarships to take primary school boys to private secondary schools.
Another factor in the school’s formation was the opening of the adjacent Teachers’ Training College a few years before in 1876. This led to the need for more secondary-educated girls to train as teachers. As female teachers were paid far less than males, the administration favoured them.
It was also a matter of the simple pressure of numbers. When primary education became compulsory after the 1875 Education Act, schools were soon “clogged up at their top end (the 5th class) with girl students who had nowhere else to go to continue an education”.
The government intended that the school would support itself by charging fees. This applied even after the Act of 1891 introduced free education for primary schooling. The only expense it planned the construction of a school building, and one was designed in 1890.
Miss Rees George, the headmistress for 22 years from 1885, advised on the planning. The superintendent of Public Buildings, C.E. Owen Smyth, designed the brick two-storey school and it was built in 1891 for £2533 by J.J. Leahy. It had 11 rooms, with five classrooms and a dining room. It was a functional building with high windows, surrounded in stone reveals, sills and corbel stones, and is of no particular architectural significance.
Owen Smyth also designed the first part of the Art Gallery of South Australia and the north wing of the museum. Like these two other buildings, the school was urgently needed but built when government funds were hard to obtain. Owen Smyth designed what he thought was best for the funds available.
In 1902 W. Ling and Son built a music room with a hipped roof over the ground-floor kitchen. Since then, the building’s exterior has remained unchanged.
In 1908 the Continuation School for boys was established. It occupied both school buildings to the west of the Advanced School for Girls. Later in that year the Continuation School and the Advanced School for Girls amalgamated as the Adelaide High School. Although it was now co-educational, boys and girls were still segregated. The school stayed on this site until 1917, when increasing numbers of pupils created a need for more space.
In 1917 the school rented accommodation from the Church of Christ. In 1928 it found more space at the Printer’s Trade School, on the corner of Morphett and Gouger streets. A year later, the ground floor of the Currie Street School was used by several classes of boys. By 1931 the whole of Currie Street School was taken over as part of the boys school. In 1939 four more classes were located in “the factory”, as the Printers Trade School was sometimes known, opposite the former Grote Street Model School.
In 1951, the new Adelaide Boys’ High School opened on West Terrace. The girls continued to occupy the three school buildings on Grote Street, to be known as the Adelaide Girls’ High School.
In 1976 the government decided to amalgamate both schools and return to the former name of Adelaide High School. The first intake of girls began in 1977 and by 1979 the remainder of the girls’ school had been transferred to the West Terrace premises.
Still used by the Education Department, it is now the Centre for Performing Arts.