14 August 2017

This week marks the commencement of the final exams for our Year 12s who finished just a few short weeks ago. At this time of the year I believe it is important to reinforce what we are trying to achieve at Scotch through the teaching and learning programmes and our balanced co-curricular offerings.

Unfortunately, for the next couple of months, what really counts regarding the provision of a sound education will once again be engulfed and more than likely sidelined by the public's annual fetish about ATARs. Even worse is the use of an ATAR as an indicator of whether a boy is successful and whether or not his school has actually delivered a meaningful education. It is way too simplistic and wrong to define success by a rank. Years of education, including hard work by the students and their teachers, coupled with the support of their families in delivering vicarious experiences over many years and across numerous environments simply deserves better!

What I have believed for years and what a recent study from Durham University has reaffirmed, is that what really counts is the quality of the teacher and the teaching that occurs each and every day. This includes a teacher's ability to form meaningful relationships with their students, through passion for their teaching area coupled with a high level of knowledge about the content matter and the pedagogy that will best impart this knowledge to their students. In essence two key factors are critical:

  • Content knowledge. Teachers with strong knowledge and understanding of their subject make a greater impact on students' learning. It is also important for teachers to understand how students think about content and be able to identify common misconceptions on a topic.
  • Quality of instruction. This includes effective questioning and the use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also found to improve attainment.

This is why it is critical that we continue to rejuvenate our teaching staff and continue to attract large numbers of applicants who want to teach at Scotch. Just recently we had over 100 applications for 3 Junior School positions. Such pools will allow us to ensure that to be appointed to a teaching position at Scotch will require applicants to show they are not just good teachers, but exceptional. Furthermore, our programmes and processes must facilitate our staff to embark on a personal journey of continual improvement as part of their ongoing professional journey.

These are the principles we will apply each and every day and year at Scotch. In doing so our goal is to ensure that each boy achieves their own personal excellence, not one measured by others via a rank.

The core competences and philosophy above also applies to everything we do in our co-curricular programmes and activities across Years 1 to 12.

Examples of this were apparent just this week where we experienced outstanding success in two Senior School inter-school academic competitions in the areas of Philosophy and Mathematics. These have been written up elsewhere in the Thistle. However, the successful outcomes are a direct result of the staff who led these activities and the quality of the instruction which underpins them.

I would like to conclude my newsletter by thanking and acknowledging one of our Year 2 students, Declan Riordan. As a result of his grandfather suffering from Motor Neuron Disease he suggested that the Junior School do the ice bucket challenge. I am sure Mr Stewart will have a more detailed story about this in his newsletter. However, this one action by Declan, resulted in a great Friday afternoon which exemplified our school spirit and the desire to support each other.

You can't measure this through an ATAR!

Have a great fortnight

Dr A J O'Connell

Headmaster