Educational Eye-Opener

Newington College

Celebrating its 150th anniversary, Newington College is repositioning itself for the next 150 years rather than resting on its considerable laurels. It is hardly a coincidence that David likes to call himself CEO, although in this case he prefers it to stand for ‘Chief Educational Officer’.

Newington is an Independent Uniting Church School for boys in Stanmore, Sydney. It is a proud member of the AAGPS (Athletic Association of the Great Public Schools of NSW). The college currently enrols 1890 boys, approximately 1260 of whom are on the Stanmore campus in Years 7-12, 480 at Wyvern House K-6 and 150 at Lindfield Prep K-6 on Sydney’s North Shore. The school presently accommodates fifty boarders as well.

Newington College’s founding was the result of a growing view in the Wesleyan Methodist Church that, with the establishment of the University of Sydney, an institution for education at a level higher than elementary was needed for boys in the city. A larger, permanent home for the college was met by the move to its present site at Stanmore in 1880, and the imposing sandstone landmark of ‘Founders Building’, designed by leading colonial architect Thomas Rowe, was constructed between 1874 and 1880.

Unlike some other similar establishments, Newington’s location and Methodist / Uniting Church foundation have secured a diverse enrolment population. Acceptance of all religious backgrounds and commitment to a liberal education were written by the Methodists into the College Charter. The inner west of Sydney has been the home for the cultures of post war migration for decades. Newington has been a school in which multi-faith and multiculturalism have been part of the College fabric well before they were reflective of modern Australia (Muslim, Hindu and Jewish and boys from the full range of Christian faiths are all part of the intake, says David). Similarly, a liberal education has had great resonance with a diverse community.

Newington’s location in the inner west of Sydney has seen significant changes in the economic fortunes of the area impact on College perception, and enrolments, over the last hundred years. In the 1880s, a location on the railway line saw the construction of large Victorian villas to house affluent families but by the 1940s, many mansions had been converted to boarding houses. Two World Wars would lead to immigration and increasing population density. Then, in the 1960s, houses were demolished for the construction of red brick units. Many of Newington’s students would have travelled significant distance to be at the school and the area was no longer considered as desirable.

More recently however, enrolment numbers have rocketed, rising twenty-six per cent since 2009 to a level which David believes represents a ceiling at present. This growth has been underpinned by a long-term strategy and features a physical expansion of the facilities of the school known as the “Sesquicentenary Project”. New facilities were needed to improve the educational opportunities for the boys. This consisted of the new Rae and Pyke Learning Centres and the refurbished science classrooms in the War Memorial block and was the College’s largest ever construction project. The project was completed on time and within budget earlier this year, ending a necessary period of using demountable buildings and initiatives from all involved to minimise disruption to learning.

Because of careful long-term facilities master planning and prudent financial management the project was achieved without the need for the college to borrow externally. The choice of a project manager and a builder with a sound reputation ensured that time and budget criteria were met. The facilities incorporate various environmental and design initiatives that make the design and the end product more environmentally friendly and economically sustainable.

Until the recession of the early 1990s, the concept of real competition was more or less unknown to the GPS schools, but thereafter they were faced with a number of challenges including the growth of the low-fee school sector. Facing an increasingly competitive market given the growth of independent schools, in 2010 Newington undertook extensive market analysis and re-branding. The school now seeks to convey to the market the existing and established qualities that are inherent in the tag line ‘Discover What’s Possible’. It has been an extraordinarily successful repositioning that sees the College with record numbers and extensive waiting lists. Competition, says David, who arrived as Headmaster in 2009, is a “good thing. It means all independent schools have to provide the right kind of service for their clientele.”

Whereas at one time a father would send his son to the same school he had attended without really considering options, “nowadays you would demand that a school should be ‘right’ for your boy or girl and that is one of the good things that have happened in Australian education.” He explains that the entire marketing exercise was centred on the boys themselves; it was they who came up with the tag based on what they considered most important about the education they were receiving. There would have been little point, he believes, in simply getting marketing people to devise a slogan that the school would have to try to live up to.

David believes the ‘Discover What’s Possible’ campaign has encouraged the boys to try more; to take risks; to be creative and sensitive; and to fill their timetable with commitments and involvement in school life. A genuine sense of “school is cool” pervades the activities. Involvement is celebrated and doing more, not less, is the norm. Stereotypes for boys, and therefore men, have been challenged. Studying drama in combination with rugby, physics or water polo is no longer mutually exclusive or defining, and achieving A grades as well as awards with first-team sports is not uncommon.

Newington first applied to become an International Baccalaureate World School in 2006. The philosophy of developing learners with attributes of independence and inquiry combined with a global approach was an obvious fit with Newington’s tradition of diversity and liberal education. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme for boys in years eleven and twelve, as an alternative qualification for matriculation to university study saw its first graduates in 2009. Currently twenty per cent of Newington’s boys in those years have elected to study under the IB Diploma course instead of the NSW Higher School Certificate.

In 2011, Lindfield Preparatory School K-6 commenced its journey towards authorisation to offer the IB Primary Years Programme. Authorisation was granted in January 2013. IB Organisation standards are meticulously maintained through accountability via extensive teacher training, visits by IB teams and assessment moderation. It is the only Sydney school in the GPS group to offer the IB Diploma.

Education in the twenty first century is without doubt a business, as commercial as anything else including healthcare. But David, though acutely aware of the constant potential for tension between the commercial and the educational priorities, says the balance struck at Newington is fine. Indeed, if the commercial side was to run unrestrained and curtail investment in facilities or quality teaching, it would blunt the standard of the product being offered to the market and ‘sales’ would suffer; thus the school remains in a kind of equilibrium.

“I have a good Board of Directors [the Newington College Council] which sees expenditure as an investment in the future and in the type of education we want to produce. It is a constant battle to have the resources for what we try to do, but we are at the high fee end and that gives us resources that others may not have.”

Newington College has no intention of turning itself into what many schools worldwide have become, namely educational factories churning out lookalike exam passes. “That is not what we are about. We try to remain core to our values and our underpinning ethos of character development is crucial.”

Newington has a policy of non-selection, i.e. the school does not pre-test academic ability to take only a certain level. Rather than chasing the greatest number of examination passes, “We try to offer a more all-round education,” says David. Nevertheless, with greater academic rigour and expectation, not selectivity, being the strategic target, Newington has recently produced three perfect IB Diploma Scores and two perfect HSC scores. The boys now identify with this as equally as they do a win on the sporting field. “These academic high flyers are also acknowledged as champions in their field,” says David with pride.

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?

December 19, 2018, 9:23 AM AEDT