There’s no doubt at all about what makes CGS so special: the students. They are more open, engaging and thoughtful in conversation than any I’ve known anywhere. It’s still the thing I enjoy most about being at the School; that and the fact that it has such a supportive and warm community.
What are you most of proud of in your time so far as Head of School?
The list of things I want for the School will always be endless, and I’ll always be frustrated that we can’t achieve more; but, so far, I guess there’s lots for us to be proud that we’ve accomplished as a School over the last few years. I know, for example, that the IB Diploma Programme and the IB Primary Years Programme are a very significant steps forward for the School and that they’ll really set the students up for a strong future. I’m also amazed at how the students and staff have delivered some truly outstanding dramatic and musical performances, not least on the professional stage. It’s hard too not to admire the way the grounds and maintenance team have made the place so beautiful again in recent years; they’re extraordinary and it’s a real pleasure to experience daily what they’ve done to transform the School. Likewise, I admire the way the teaching staff have risen to a whole range of new demands while never losing focus on the students. It’s good, too, to have got a new Foundation off the ground and I’m still a bit awed by the Snow Centre and all that it represents both for the educational future of the School and in terms of our community’s extraordinary generosity and commitment.
What do you find most challenging?
E-mail! Endless e-mail. I wish it had never been invented.
What do you hope to achieve for CGS in the near future?
Two things above all: I want the School to be genuinely interesting, vibrant with curiosity, discussion and intellectual spark. We’re such a bright community but sometimes I don’t think we realise just how much sharper we could be and I’d love to see the School characterized again as much for its cultural cut and thrust as for its wonderful pastoral warmth. Secondly, I want to feel that our future prosperity is secure. The School has too long been in tighter financial circumstance than many people realise, and while we’ve come a long way in recent years, we’re still too precarious. All the School’s extraordinary potential will forever be frustrated if we can’t adapt our enrolment base, revitalize our campus and get the new Foundation flourishing to underpin all that the future is going to throw at us.
What were you like when you were at school?
I was a bit of a late developer. For most of school I was pretty unobtrusive, but I really took off in Year 11 and 12 when I suddenly realised what it was all about. I had a couple of phenomenal teachers, who really inspired me to recognise how much more there was beyond suburban existence and mundane thought. I learned from them how to think and argue and write; how to care about principles that mattered. I’m hugely grateful to them and to all of my teachers really.
Did you ever get in trouble and get called to the Headmasters’ office?
Not often; like I said, I was pretty unobtrusive for most of my time at school. But I was editor of the school magazine in Year 11 or 12 and I remember getting seriously grilled about publishing something a teacher had said that he really shouldn’t have said. It probably wasn’t the most tactful thing I’ve ever done but I stick to my journalistic standards.
What three qualities would you like every student of CGS to take away with them when they graduate?
1) A recognition of their own intelligence, in whatever form that takes: linguistic, mathematical, artistic, emotional, physical or a combination of all. That’s fundamental. I want every student at the School to know what extraordinary capacity they have to think and create and make a difference.
2) The confidence and fascination to embrace the world; the great defining force of our children’s time on earth will be globalisation on a scale and at a pace unprecedented in history. Most Australians, most Australian politicians and most Australian educators have their heads firmly stuck in the sand on that one, and if I want to achieve anything at Canberra Grammar School it’s to ensure that our students break out of that.
3) Compassion; all the privilege and opportunity of a school like Canberra Grammar is worth nothing if it’s not given in return to others in some way. I love the fact that, by and large, this is not a selfish school; it’s not a school in which students and parents and staff are in it for what they can get for themselves. Perhaps that’s something in the nature of Canberra or something deeply embedded in the soul of the School, but it’s a place where caring takes precedence over competition and that’s not always the case in schools like ours.
You and your family moved to Canberra when you started your role at Grammar. How are you finding it?
Like everyone who grew up elsewhere in Australia I spent my life ridiculing Canberra, and then I got here and discovered it was wonderful. I couldn’t be happier. Honestly, I’m still surprised every day that I managed to fall into a School that I love so much, in a city that’s so easy to enjoy, with a community that’s so warm and positive. A closer coast would be nice.
How would you spend your perfect weekend?
Now final question, when the boys impersonate you in mock assembly each year, is your laughter real or fake?
Absolutely real. Who wouldn’t laugh? I still laugh at the scurrilous song they had “me” singing two years ago. Anyone who doesn’t laugh at their students should really get out of teaching. Seriously.