Friday Night School, an independent, non-denominational educational charity was founded 26 years ago by Margaret Gurry to help students from non-English speaking backgrounds, particularly recently arrived migrant and refugee students. Whilst working as a volunteer visitor to families in the high rise public housing flats in Richmond, Margaret realised that these children had no educational assistance at home and that they would benefit, socially and economically, with help beyond the normal classroom.

The first tutoring session took place one Friday evening, with 5 children and 5 adult volunteers. As word of the help being offered quickly spread, and the number of students increased, Margaret asked the students what they thought this class should be called; “Friday Night School” was their reply, and so it was named.

Friday Night School students come from many countries, including Vietnam, Timor-Leste, Sudan and Ethiopia. As the number of students needing help grew Margaret invited selected schools to participate in the program by providing their students to tutor. Through this initiative the Friday Night School burst into life and became the remarkable place it is today. Each Friday evening during term time over 300 students meet at St Ignatius Parish Hall in Richmond to participate in the program.

Friday Night School is a peer-to-peer learning model, which means that students from the participating schools help the Friday Night School students with their studies. Tutors’ assistance extends from VCE level subjects, such as Maths Methods, to helping prep students recognise their letters and word sounds. Many Friday Night School students have achieved impressive VCE results, continuing their studies at university and other further education institutions.

Since its inception Friday Night School has evolved to include a Scholarship and Bursary Program, FNS Online (particularly relevant during the covid lockdown), Wednesday Night Tutoring, FNS Reading Program, an adult literacy group and an annual camp and an end-of-year party.

In recognition of her services to education of migrant children and their families, Margaret was awarded the degree of Doctor of the University (Honoris Causa) by the Australian Catholic University in 2007 having earlier in 2004 been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia and awarded a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International.

Click here to learn more about Margaret’s awards.