Old School, New Methods

Guildford Grammar School

But the sense of privilege is being enhanced month-by-month and year-by-year as the school implements its ten-year Master Plan. It is fitting therefore that enrolments have risen by around 50 per cent in the last decade to a current 1,220 students (the school is co-ed in prep), while plans are in hand to take the total to some 1,500 (600 in the primary school, and 900 secondary students) in the years ahead, to allow more students to experience the effect of a combination of good education and first-rate facilities.

At the time Headmaster Stephen Webber arrived at Guildford three years ago, only around 100 boys, a smaller proportion than ever before, boarded at the school. Since this would have meant that some sons of alumni, and some siblings, would have to be turned away, he set to work to plan more space for living-in, adding an initial 14 rooms. “Recently we have added a further 24 beds in what is temporary accommodation – albeit very good, individual self-contained units with en-suite and air conditioner and even a fridge, taking us to a boarding capacity of 148, although that is still not enough. Looking at census figures and projections for the next 20 to 25 years, we have a figure of around 160 as a sustainable number of boarders going forward.”

With boarding at capacity, the school has been unable to take advantage of Australia’s strong reputation with surrounding nations for educational excellence. However, as Mr Webber points out, educational standards are rising fast in the Far East. “The quality of the international schools in Southeast Asia has certainly improved and I think parents are starting to look a little bit closer to home in terms of their children’s education.”

Mr Webber says the Council that runs Guildford Grammar School is conscious of the potential for bumps in the road of increasing prosperity in the Perth region amid dire forecasts of economic downturns. Consequently it has taken a conservative approach in planning for expansion. However, the GFC in 2008-9 did not produce any major downturn in the fortunes – or the class lists – of the schools that make up the Public Schools Association, the west-coast version of the GPS network in New South Wales and Queensland (the PSA is particularly strong in its hugely competitive sporting competitions).

Accordingly, the austere-sounding Master Plan caters for an enviable selection of new facilities, such as the recently completed Thwaites Centre which features 14 new teaching rooms, eight Catalyst laboratories, IT resource areas, staff planning and resource areas and a new Executive Administration Centre, housing, among other resources, an HR manager and her assistant.

Mr Webber puts a high value on professional people management, just as in any other business, and this philosophy underpins a highly unusual departure from the educational norm. Guildford Grammar School has entered into a partnership with The Pacific Institute, which “helps individuals and organisations build more effective mindsets so they can achieve their desired culture, vision and enhance results” (please visit http://www.thepacificinstitute.com.au/ to learn more).

Guildford works with the institute in a programme entitled Investment in Personal Excellence, a two-day course for staff. “So far we have put around 45 of our 200 staff through it,” explains Mr Webber, “many of whom are now able to train others in the programme. The idea is that we will put all our year 11 students through it. We are very excited about the initial feedback we have received from staff.” He believes this is a unique development for a secondary school, at least in Australia. “It has been very significant for a number of our staff; it’s one thing to talk about a culture of excellence in your staff but doing it is something else. This programme is a major strategic driver of our plan.”

Another programme that sets Guildford apart is Catalyst. The school used the movement of year 7 students to its new senior campus in 2010 as a catalyst for change, developing an inspiring lower secondary teaching and learning programme, one that is specifically built for boys. “This is an ambitious and innovative programme in which we have changed the structure of our year 7 to year 9 curriculum,” says Mr Webber. In essence, students are put into personal learning program units to gain more knowledge of skills, thought processes and actions that are common across all disciplines. In year 7, for example, pupils learn how to do research on a ‘historical hero’ they select, and in turn must choose the methodology of compiling information from traditional print or modern multimedia sources, later presenting the project coherently with proper references.

“These are what we call Big Skills – critical thinking, collaboration and teamwork, research, creativity, innovation and leadership.” Students go through term-long units that are inter-disciplinary although “there is still a strong focus on numeracy and literacy,” Mr Webber explains. “The Programme is designed around student engagement. It is challenging for staff and students but it is another driver in our growth. Parents are seeing it and I am hearing extremely positive comments about this programme.”

Mr Webber points out that this programme is being implemented at a time when government-driven curricula are becoming more and more restricted to content-based learning; Guildford’s approach is “unashamedly focussing on student engagement.” He contends, “The research is quite clear: if the boys are disengaged, you are losing the battle” for their hearts and minds. “We are still very respectful of traditional learning practices in terms of literacy and numeracy – and Maths and English – but we make no apology for looking to engage the boys from an early age and develop their skills.”

Guildford Grammar School also makes no apologies for having an Anglican Church background, nor for accepting enrolments without academic testing or selection. Students don’t have to be Anglican to go to the school, but they do have to take part in the denominational functions that, like the Chapel itself, are a central part of life on the campus. Half of the twelve seats on the governing Council are reserved for nominations from the clergy, including one from the Archbishop of Perth. Likewise, pupils don’t have to be an academic genius to qualify for Guildford, but – somewhat unusually – this establishment has a special teaching mechanism to ensure that brighter boys are not held back by more averagely talented lads in the same class. “Academic excellence is very important to us; it is one of our core values. For us, it is about getting the best out of each individual child. We are very proud of our results here – between 80 and 90 per cent of our students go on to university. But we do provide pathways for other students in terms of TAFE or apprenticeships, for example.” Guildford also prides itself on musical excellence, the church connection encouraging community singing as well as instrumental music.

With the new demands of its Master Plan, Guildford Grammar School is in what appears to be a constant state of flux, although efforts are made to reduce the impact of the various developments and the size of the campus means the disruption is in any case minimal. It is heartening to notice the Tuck Shop has survived thus far, its menus updated to chime with modern recipes to encourage healthy eating, but nonetheless a tradition that has sadly disappeared from most schools. Mr Webber has to disappoint on this occasion, though, because the cafeteria is on its way to replace the shop. “For around six dollars the day boys can buy the same menu that the boarders have been eating.” Time was that you could not force such food down their throats; things have indeed changed in this elite, but far from complacent educational establishment.

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, 5:13 AM AEDT