Why a Boys’ School?
A common question that I am asked by prospective parents is ‘why should we send our son to a boys’ school?’ This is an interesting question and generally breaks the ice in these meetings as I am very passionate about the value of boys education. This value is even more powerful, I believe, within the context of the unique educational model on offer at secondary level within St Margaret’s and Berwick Grammar School. Our model enables boys and girls to learn separately in ways designed to meet their intellectual and emotional needs, acknowledging that at various phases of development that these requirements can be quite different. However, we have an incredible capacity for our boys and girls to collaborate together and build authentic relationships in a range of contexts.
Our Growing Good Men Project has gathered a good deal of interest and strong momentum in the now 12 months of my time at the School. This program acknowledges that whilst a focus on academic development is imperative in a school, we also need to appreciate that educating the mind, is not independent of educating the heart. Helping our boys appreciate what it means to be a good man is an essential component of the development of character. Whilst intellect can and always will solve the problems of the world, it is character that will ultimately decide the success and achievement of individuals, families and communities. Thus, the best boys schools promote academic excellence, they also appreciate that intellect is worthless without integrity, honour, empathy, humour, compassion and respect. The respect for self, others and in particular women should be at the forefront of our programs and pedagogy within a boys’ school. I believe our well-being programs, largely introduced over the last 12 months, are making good progress in this regard but there is still much to tackle. The prevalence of pornographic material available to young men and the manner in which this content can warp notions of respect and intimacy are real concerns which we must address and confront as parents and educators if we are to shape healthy attitudes towards relationships. At the heart of this program is the goal of enabling our boys to make informed and responsible decisions which will assist them in living fulfilling and honourable lives.
Within a boys’ school, teachers are equipped to deal with the learning and emotional needs of boys. They confront the complexity and challenges of dealing with emerging adolescent brains where boys may need to work at varying paces, have greater needs in the areas of literacy and a preference to learn by doing rather than talking. Our learning spaces at Berwick Grammar School are well equipped for these needs. Importantly, a boys’ school appreciates that boys learn their teacher before they learn the subject material, meaning that standards, discipline and expectations must be set high. Boys love challenges and will rise to meet what is expected of them. So too, they will achieve the minimum very nicely if this is the standard that is set. Our current focus on developing the entrepreneurial leadership skills of our students provides an excellent example of this approach to learning in action and through inquiry. Boys’ schools also appreciate that the relationship between teacher and student is at the heart of learning. As part of the Growing Good Men Project, this issue of building, maintaining and sustaining relationships has occupied much of the professional conversation in our staffrooms and offices. Again, there is scope for continued improvement in this area as there is in all that we do, but I trust that parents appreciate our focus in this regard, as on display at the recent ‘Time and Space’ events.
I commend several projects to you as reflective of this commitment to both teaching and reaching boys. As I write, I have just returned from a celebratory lunch for the boys who have won sporting pennants this term. Along with their dedicated coaches, we had over 40 boys who won a variety of sports including our first ever Intermediate Australian Rules title. Developing a culture that honours winning as well as valuing participation is so important for boys and I am proud of their efforts in ‘punching above their weight’ against much bigger schools. Further, I have witnessed the great work of our Year 7 and 8 boys in their inquiry based project developing 21st century thinking skills to solve a real world problem of Plastic in our Oceans.
It has been a fine semester for our staff and boys, and indeed, an enjoyable first year at Berwick Grammar School for me. There are exciting times to come and I look forward to sharing news of them with you.
Dr Steven Middleton
Head of Berwick Grammar School