Murray Guest is the Headmaster of The Armidale School. We talk to him about where school education and TAS are headed in 2011.
With the new school year upon us, what can we expect of the educational environment in 2011?
It seems that the political scene is now playing a major role in sculpting the educational environment, though it is still too early to determine the final shape this will take.
2010 was a year of unprecedented Federal Government influence in school education, and I cannot see that abating. This foray into areas of curriculum and infrastructure that have generally been the domain of schools or statutory bodies has been accompanied by controversy at every turn.The enhanced MySchool website has been delayed by complaints over inaccuracy of data, the national curriculum has been found wanting by the NSW Board of Studies, and the extraordinary cost of building projects in government schools has left a bitter taste for some. The fast lane to the education revolution has not been as smooth as the government had hoped, and even vast capital injections have not been enough to silence the critics.
But in saying this, developing a national curriculum, introducing national standards for literacy and numeracy and testing them through NAPLAN, recognising the teaching profession through a National Institute of Teachers and giving schools priority in capital spending programs are all fundamentally good ideas. It is the pace and nature of their implementation, rather than their intrinsic worth, that warrants the criticism.
It should come as no surprise that the Federal Government has been pushing through these initiatives with such resolve. With the next federal election never more than three years away, any new program must be implemented quickly if it is to generate political capital for the government in power – who are loathe for any political kudos to be handed to their potential successor. Unfortunately, the educational environment is not suited to such short decision making cycles, and the fervour of debate through 2010 has highlighted this. Perhaps the delicate balance federal politics now operates under will favour more consultation and a more modest timetable for change.
We understand the school undertook a stakeholder survey last year. How will the results of this be utilised?
Last year the TAS School Board committed to a major professional survey of our students, parents and staff.
The rationale was to help drive the school’s strategic planning, and the Board’s timing was quite deliberate.
With strong enrolments, healthy finances and most of the recent building program complete, TAS is now at a time when the school finds itself relatively free of the issues that can cloud and skew a process like this.
The survey, conducted by Macquarie Marketing Group from Sydney, was the most comprehensive ever conducted at TAS and has provided us with unparalleled clarity of vision into the perceptions of our parents, staff and students.
As benchmarked against the 20 other major independent schools Macquarie Marketing has conducted this survey for, TAS is in what they describe as “robust good health”.
As an example, the overall satisfaction rating of our Middle School’s unique structure and educational offering, by parents and students, was extremely high – a vindication of our vision more than a decade ago to establish a specialist residential and academic precinct for students in Years 6-8.
Just as pleasing was the confirmation that our parent body supports the approach to education that is the trademark of TAS – being happy to define it as ‘training for life’, rather than preparation for some much more narrow course. It is very clear that our community sees breadth and balance of experience as important in school life, and their support for things such as our extracurricular program, sport, outdoor education, Round Square experiences and the Arts was clear.
We are now using the survey results to ‘paint the picture’ of what TAS might look like in 2025. This year we will begin to transform the survey feedback into action and develop concrete strategies for the next five years in particular.
Some of the results of this will be seen from the start of 2011. Academically, there will be more focus on formal exam periods, a new homework centre for Middle and Senior School and a better communication of our teaching programs through our website, amongst other initiatives. Meanwhile, our pastoral care structures and programs will also be enhanced.
TAS also has some new initiatives in sport to be implemented this year. Could you outline these changes?
There will be some positive changes in both Football and Rugby for TAS in 2011. Our 1st XI will participate in a Football Festival hosted by Newington College in the Easter holidays, and this will be wonderful preparation for the 2011 season.
Our Rugby program will see much bigger change, as all of our teams will be involved in most of the GPS competition games, both at TAS and in Sydney. This has been achieved by TAS and Sydney High combining to cover most of the regular Sydney High rounds, so when Sydney High are at home, our games will be here.
This means that we will not play in the LBK Boost Juice Cup in Tamworth, but we will retain our home and away rounds with Farrer.
These enhanced relationships with the GPS in both Football and Rugby are very exciting. Our schools carry the same philosophy of sportsmanship and camaraderie between schools, and I am delighted that we will be able to share that.
What do you see as the major challenge for the future?
Like all schools, TAS now faces a more rapidly changing educational, political and social environment than at any time in the past, and it is worth remembering the lessons we hope to pass on to our students: to always be alert to the new opportunities that come with change, but not to be drawn to them at the sacrifice of your principles. It is that lesson that says ‘stay true to your beliefs and follow your dreams’ – and we must do the same as a school.
For TAS, the challenge for our future is in responding to our changing landscape with our feet firmly planted in our home ground; where the development of independence, strong personal values and character – essentially, growing to be a good man – takes priority over the fickle demands that come with short political cycles and shallow social focus on the issues of the day.
Thank you Murray.