The school was founded in 1905 as the first coeducational state secondary school in Victoria. Melbourne High School was originally located in Spring Street in Melbourne. In 1927, the boys and girls split, with the boys moving to a new school at Forrest Hill in the inner city suburb of South Yarra which retained the name Melbourne High School. The girls eventually moved to the Mac.Robertson Girls' High School on Kings Way, Melbourne.
Throughout this history, enrolment for year 9 has been determined by an entrance examination, held in June each year. The entrance examination consists of an assessment of the applicant's mathematics and English skills. In 2007, 308 Year 9s entered the school, out of over 1,200 students who undertook the examination. Students have achieved very strong results in the VCE examinations, and placements at tertiary institutions are at a rate well above Victoria's average.
The school has a compulsory involvement program, including involvement within school and within the broader community. Its ethos encourages investment of effort into academic, sporting, musical, leadership, and personal pursuits. It was also the first school in Australia to establish a Student Representative Council, with the assistance of Sir Robert Menzies. In addition, the school owns an outdoor education facility in Millgrove, which lies near the Warburton ranges.
In 2010, The Age reported that Melbourne High School ranked equal tenth among Australian schools based on the number of alumni who had received a top Order of Australia honour.
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