27 November 2017

Headmaster's Reflections

With the announcement of a federal election date, and the knowledge that there will be a state election in 2017, school communities can expect to be hearing a lot of rhetoric over the coming months about what is wrong with our schools, accompanied with the usual plethora of quick fix political statements; including the old chestnut, 'why would you pay high fees to receive an education?'

In WA one of the more interesting educational developments over the last few years has been the implementation and growth of what are now called Independent Public Schools (IPS). The use of the term 'Independent' and the ensuing expansion of its use was a not so subtle way to blur what the term independent truly means in the broader community. I read with interest over the weekend that the plans to open another public high school (which no doubt would have been an IPS) in the Western Suburbs within three years have been scrapped and one is unlikely to be built for a decade after State Government negotiations for a City Beach site broke down.

This decision may call into question how large High Schools should be? Over the last few years our own College has grown significantly, but we have developed three discrete sub schools, each with their own co-mission and uniqueness to ensure our sub schools remain at an optimum size.

This has been done to ensure that we can cater to the needs of the different ages from a pedagogical and an age appropriate perspective. Our Junior School is geared at ensuring our boys' basic skills are targeted as soon as they arrive. Our Year 7 intake is not simply a convenient add on to a Senior School. The Middle School, with its own unique facility and curriculum, is designed to help our boys in Years 6 to 8 as they work through early adolescence before their transition as young men. Finally our Senior School develops further independence in preparation for completing school and transitioning to further studies or the workplace.

With all of the political rhetoric that will no doubt fill our broad sheets and digital media, I think it is timely to remind ourselves of why you chose a truly independent school for your son.

Just recently I was speaking to a parent who for sometime had been challenged by his own parents as to why he would commit much of his disposable income to send the boys to Scotch. Having recently experienced a few activities and witnessed the progress of their grandsons, the grandparents followed this up with a "now I see why" statement.

As a current Director of AISWA, I was recently engaged with my fellow board members in developing a statement about what the term 'independent school' truly means. This statement can be found on the AISWA site but I thought it is timely to remind our community of the true test of what it means to be an independent school.

AISWA Statement from https://www.ais.wa.edu.au/independent-schools

In recent years the Western Australia Government has introduced a category of schools within the government sector referred to as "independent public schools". The use of the word independent has created confusion and a blurring between genuinely Independent Schools and those now referred to as "independent" in the public sector.

The reality is that independent public schools have limited autonomy. Such public schools do not have the power to fully self-determine their operations. They are obliged to meet teacher awards (the Department of Education State Agreement) and workplace entitlements, and are subject to a range of department policies and accountability requirements. These public schools have no separate legal status.

On the other hand the following list illustrates some of the distinctive features of genuinely Independent Schools:

  • Each Independent School has legal status in its own right. Each school is separately constituted under its own constitution.
  • Independent Schools are owned and operated by a separately constituted association or organisation and as such, determine the strategic directions of the school whilst meeting all legislative requirements. Some Independent Schools are part of a small system within the sector and these have an independent governing body that makes determinations for the schools in that small system.
  • Independent Schools are separately registered by the Minister of Education and must have a constitution that outlines the structure, roles and responsibilities of the governing body.
  • The governing body of an Independent School is responsible for the strategic planning for the school, the selection and support of the principal and the financial viability of the school.
  • In an Independent School it is the school's governing body that is ultimately responsible for the welfare of students and the school and ensuring the school meets the standards required by the Education Act.
  • Independent Schools develop their own behavioural management and discipline policies that suit the needs and culture of their school and the community they serve.
  • Many Independent Schools have their own Enterprise Agreements (EAs) and others work under the conditions of the State Independent School Teachers' Award (1976) or the Federal Educational Services (Teachers) Award (2010).
  • Independent Schools develop their own culture, ethos and values system that is reflective of each Independent School's belief structure.

I noted with interest last week that a newspaper article drew a conclusion that because Scotch and Christ Church had run some enrolment promotions that they must be losing numbers. One presumes the thought is that the large state IPS schools are having an impact on private school enrolments.

A key part to being independent is to promote brand and choice; this is our job. Why wouldn't we do this? In our case someone failed to do their homework otherwise they may have realised that the Pre-Primary and Kindergarten advertisements are because we are expanding and growing, not shrinking.

A school such as ours offers a brand that commenced in 1897, a brand that is rich in academic and co-curricular culture and a brand that lasts well beyond the formal years of schooling. As our Old Scotch Collegians motto so rightly highlights, when you graduate from Scotch you graduate into a 'Community for Life'.

In closing, my reminder to our community is not to be distracted by pop culture politics querying why anyone would pay fees to receive an education when they can get it for a lot less somewhere else. The families I speak to make many financial disposable income sacrifices to send their son(s) to Scotch.

On Friday last week I hosted an OSC who proudly told me he would have five grandsons coming to the College he graduated from in 1954. Scotch 2016 in so many ways is not the same College that existed in 1954; however the College's strong sense of history and transmission of its heritage and culture continues today.

I am a great supporter of all education sectors, Independent, Government and Catholic. In WA we are very fortunate to have many great schools that serve their communities very well across all sectors.

Put simply, all schools and sectors are different. It is educational choice that truly matters. I believe our parents know why they made their choice of school. Hopefully when others who do not understand the true value of independence, or even worse, challenge the concept from a place of ignorance or bias, then the AISWA statement will place you in a better position to explain your decision to send your son to an independent school such as Scotch.

Our job as the current Scotch community is to continually reaffirm 'why Scotch' for your son(s).

Dr A J O'Connell

Headmaster