IT has notched up 100 years of history as Hampshire's top convent school.

Tens of thousands of girls have passed through the red brick classrooms, emerging as generation after generation of high-flying female doctors, lawyers, teachers and academics.

However, all-girls St Anne's School in Southampton, where the teachers used to be nuns, is now entering a new era.

Earlier this month, it ditched the word Convent from the school's official title, and from September 2006, for the first time ever, boys will be allowed to join the school's sixth form.

The radical move was confirmed last night, as school governors met to approve the plans.

Opening up the single-sex school to teenage boys is set to double the size of the 100-strong sixth form and today, St Anne's bosses are launching a new recruitment drive to attract more pupils.

Senior deputy head teacher Linda Emery told the Daily Echo: "We are offering an outstanding education, and we want to be offering it to the whole cohort of male and female students.

"By expanding, we can offer an increased number of subjects and staff also feel our girls can benefit from the different teaching and learning strategies that boys succeed at. We haven't done enough previously to promote our centre of excellence. We feel duty-bound to share that good fortune with others."

A sixth form common room refurbishment is in the pipeline, and from June this year, leaders at the city centre Catholic school will be visiting every secondary within a ten-mile radius to promote the new co-educational sixth form.

The switch to mixed-sex comes as the Rockstone Place school celebrates its centenary, with special events planned for this summer and a reunion Mass in December last year.

In September 2004, St Anne's was awarded specialist science status and its sixth form results rank second in the region, behind Peter Symonds College in Winchester.

The school has already started taking St George's Catholic Boys' School pupils for after-school lessons in science - and Mrs Emery says the group could make up the male intake of 2006.

"When you have achieved 100 years of history, you start to review your mission statement," she said. "Part of that evaluation is looking forward to the next 100 years."