The 16th Principal of New England Girls’ School, Peter Hodge, officially took the reins of one of Australia’s oldest girls’ boarding schools in January. We speak with the educator about his career and ambitions for the school.
You’ve worked for the Queensland Department of Education, in Papua New Guinea for the International Education Agency, at a girls’ school in Brisbane and as Principal of a large co-educational school in the United Arab Emirates. What was the attraction in returning to Australia and taking on the role of Principal at NEGS?
The opportunity to be a part of a school with such a strong and respected history was the first point. When I researched further into the school and the achievements of the students, it was evident that it is a school that not only attracts the best, but is determined that every student should achieve their best.
During your time at Al Ain English Speaking School, United Arab Emirates, you oversaw tremendous growth in enrolments and in building and capital works. Tell us about that …
When I arrived, the school was struggling to achieve what it was capable of, and many areas were not performing to expectation. The staff at the school where professional and experienced teachers from many countries and many backgrounds. By providing the stability in direction and the support the school required, we were able to take the school from 600 to 1,200 students in two years. The owner of the school was committed to the development and growth of the school; he just wanted to be sure that any further investment would be used effectively.
I submitted a feasibility study to the bank, and we secured a 34,000,000.00 Dirham loan to expand the school buildings, including classrooms, canteen and a large multipurpose hall, provide a sporting facility including a gym, basketball court, classrooms and two swimming pools. Then, to landscape and blend all the new buildings with the current infrastructure.
One of the biggest challenges was to have this 18-month building program taking place on the same site as the school was currently using. The development took place within the current school grounds, and I am very proud to say that there was not one accident or missed lesson due to the build program.
What are the differences and similarities between that school and NEGS?
That school is young compared to NEGS and has a student body comprising over 60 different nationalities. However, they are similar in the students wanting an education that can provide the best possible opportunities for their future.
What unique experience and perspective do you think you can bring from your international postings to take NEGS forward?
The knowledge of educational systems that provide various qualifications. The NSW system is a rigorous and well developed educational provider, and I would always continue to support and develop that within NEGS. However, I do think we can benefit from other qualifications that are taken alongside the NSW system, such as the International Baccalaureate that NEGS was a member of until 2005.
Also, the possibility of providing qualifications and opportunities from other countries such as the Cambridge exams from the UK and scholarships for the top universities in the USA.
You hold Masters degrees in Business Administration and in Information Technology. What plans do you have to develop IT as a tool of learning?
The introduction of e-learning is a significant step for NEGS; the students are involved in many sporting and academic activities that take them away from school. The provision of e-learning will allow them to maintain connection with the teacher and even take part in the class while they are away.
The laptop program has now involved all students from Year 5 to 12, and this gives the opportunity to integrate the laptop into the class as a seamless educational tool. By the teachers providing e-learning support for all their classes, the student will be engaged within the classroom by the teacher directing/supporting the lesson and the technology providing the opportunities for differentiation and extension.
We understand that you are also keen to strengthen the school’s links with the University of New England.
The executive team of NEGS has met with the university’s Pro Vice Chancellor (Students and Social Inclusion) Ms Evelyn Woodberry and Greg Balcombe (Director Student Administration and Services) to explore the opportunities for NEGS students. We have discussed a number of possibilities and can assure you that the students of NEGS will benefit.
Tell us about your family.
I am here in Armidale with my wife, Susan, and two boys, Michael and Jonathan. My sons are both enrolled in UNE and will be enjoying undergraduate life and studying hard. We are all very happy to be here and enjoying the life Armidale has to offer.
Well, the wet summer must certainly be different to the stifling dryness of the Middle East in July?
I have enjoyed the British summer that has been provided for us, but I understand that it was not usual. The climate of the Middle East is not easy to cope with, and the air-conditioned life can be very tiring. The temperatures can easily pass 50 degrees Celsius in the shade, and cars can often be so hot inside, that the temperature sensor just reads ‘error’! We are looking forward to walking and enjoying the countryside that NSW has to offer.
Finally, as a Welshman, what do you love more – rugby or singing? And will we hear you in the NEGS Choir?
There is no separation in Wales between rugby and singing; if you do one, you must do the other! As to my ability to be a part of the NEGS choir, I am not sure. The singing I heard at speech day was fantastic, and the harmonious singing of the whole school at assembly and chapel have me questioning my ability.
Thank you Peter.