From Boys to Men

Brisbane Grammar School

Brian Short, the Headmaster of Brisbane Grammar School says, “We’re clearly the best performed and most consistent academic school in Queensland and we’re nationally credible in the sense that we’re not a selective school.

“I guess it’s unusual for a boys’ school but it’s really cool to be an academic here,” says Mr Short. While Brisbane Grammar had the distinction of being the most outstanding academic school in Queensland by a fair margin last year, the school is also achieving excellence in cultural and sporting arenas. Mr Short recalls one weekend when the students won both the chess and rugby premierships. It said something about the balance in the school, which together with staff, he has worked tirelessly to achieve. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really good people,” he says. “The energy and sense of common purpose you get when you work hard with talented people for the benefit of others is special.

“We get a lot of university scholarships and win many Australian student prizes and to be a non-selective boys’ school as good as that is a real compliment because worldwide the girls tend to do better than the boys.” Statistics say that boys perform better academically in single gender schools however, Mr Short believes that the absence of girls in itself is only a starting point. “You can have a boys’ school, and they exist, where boys will conceal how well they do academically or conceal the fact they are a musician because they don’t want to stand out from the crowd.”

Interestingly, the ultimate accolade that anyone can get during a Brisbane Grammar assembly is if the students stamp their feet, and the loudest stamping that happened last year, surprisingly, was not following the news that the school had won the rugby premiership. “The announcement of the dux (top student) was far and away the most positively received announcement of the year and that says an enormous amount about the place.”

While Brisbane Grammar boasts a rich history since its founding in the late 1860s, the culture has always been forward thinking and innovative. “We were probably amongst the first schools in Australia to adopt a learning framework that shaped what happened at the school,” comments Mr Short. “We use data well and we do a lot of work on teacher professional development, but I think more than anything else we’ve got a really positive academic culture.”

Although the boys at Brisbane Grammar School are performing exceedingly well, the focus is about so much more than achieving fantastic report cards. “We’re not just trying to get an outcome now; we’re trying to produce kids who are effective learners going forward as university students or in their future careers.” The teachers and staff aim to instil a love of learning in the students and equip them with a whole set of attitudes and skills that will serve them well in and out of the classroom.

The motto of Brisbane Grammar School is ‘Nil Sine Labore’, which is Latin for ‘Nothing Without Work’. The school offers a diverse curriculum within a disciplined but supportive environment that encourages students to excel, and a vibrant extracurricular sector covering sport, the visual and performing arts (art, music and drama), special interest clubs and cultural activities complements the curriculum. Brisbane Grammar also offers boys a variety of sports to get the blood pumping from basketball, cricket, and rugby to fencing, rowing and sailing. “Many of our top sportsmen are involved in the arts and vice versa which we think is really healthy,” says Mr Short, who has worked diligently to ensure that all the different activities at the school receive equal attention.

Special interest clubs enable the boys of Brisbane Grammar to pursue their interests and become well-rounded individuals. These clubs achieve some extraordinary outcomes and encourage the boys to take an active role in their learning. For those seeking to unlock the mysteries of the universe there is an Astronomy Club; more mechanically minded boys feel right at home in the Robotics Club; there are public speaking, debating and chess competitions to spring the mind into action; boys who love the outdoors can put themselves to the test with the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme and at their annual outdoor education experiences at the School’s Moogerah Centre.

The teachers at Brisbane Grammar have also created a comprehensive Personal Development Program. The mission of the program is to ensure that the students are well equipped for the challenges they will face in life and the decisions they will have to make. The boys learn a lot from the program, which covers areas such as leadership, relationships and interpersonal skills. Mr Short hopes that the program helps the boys to recognise the positive contribution they can make to the local community and society, and explains, “Our mission statement talks about ‘men of character who contribute to their communities’ and that’s what we’re trying to produce.”

Brisbane Grammar is home to Harlin House, which is the boarding arm of the School. Harlin House is a friendly, supportive environment with laundry washed and available the same day, a delicious menu and a medical centre that is staffed twenty-four hours a day. The Director of Boarding, Simon Hill and the Head of Residence, Damon Emtage actually live on site with their families, helping to create a nurturing atmosphere for the boys. “Being a boarder at school has changed dramatically,” says Mr Short. “We try to create in Harlin House a place that’s better than home.”

A quality education plays a fundamental role in the mental, physical and social development of the next generation. Boys are growing up in a world that moves a lot faster than it did in the time of their fathers. “I think it’s a very exciting but also very challenging time for boys,” remarks Mr Short, who goes on to say that globalisation and an onslaught of technology, in particular social media, are all having an impact. The lure of the cyber world can ironically lead to feelings of loneliness. Boys often start to live vicariously through Facebook and Twitter while failing to find a true sense of identity and purpose in life. It was once said that it takes a village to raise a child, and boys need to be a part of a living, breathing community and experience the world beyond the computer screen.

While Brisbane Grammar School is striving to be the best school for boys in Australia, Mr Short hopes that the school will benchmark itself against best practices internationally. “Global extension is one part of my vision,” he shares. “The second is what I call public purpose.” There is still enormous scope for the school to extend its moral reach into the local community by contributing people, knowledge and resources. “Our kids have a lot of opportunities and with those opportunities come responsibilities.” The Community Service Program is very rewarding and gives the students a real sense of accomplishment. “We’ve got a lot of our Old Boys who are doing wonderful philanthropic, social and relief efforts so it looks to be having an effect.”

Certainly, the Gonski review of school funding has sparked a lot of heated discussions, politics and sloganing. Mr Short agrees that the proper funding for schools is important because it does help to create opportunities, but believes that the fundamental question is going to be, ‘who teaches in our schools?’ How are Australian teachers trained and prepared, how does the education system keep enhancing their skill set and how are they remunerated? “The number one way to improve Australian education is to make sure that every kid in every class has a good teacher. Now that’s our aim at Brisbane Grammar, but it should be our national ambition.”

At the end of this year, Mr Short will be retiring from Brisbane Grammar School but until then it will be business as usual. While his name will go down as the eleventh Headmaster in the 145-year history of Brisbane Grammar, Mr Short hopes that teachers, students and parents will remember him as “someone who cared deeply about the school and was loyal to it.” Being able to shake the hand of a graduating student who struggled and needed a lot of support to earn his certificate but got there in the end is just one of the memories that have made the journey unforgettable.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 20, 2018, 5:32 AM AEST