Over the last 25 years, while setting up and investing in education companies, I have visited lots of schools around the world. This doesn’t make me an expert or an educationalist, simply an interested outsider. I often describe myself as ‘the least educated person working in the education market’ or as someone else said, ‘He can read a balance sheet but can’t spell pedagogy’. Yet I think I have learned a few useful things about education. Want to send your child to a private school but can’t afford the whole twelve years? Then spend your money on their primary education, because if they aren’t numerate, literate and confident at the end of this, it won’t matter a jot what secondary school you send them to, they will struggle! Similarly, I have been to enough schools to get a sense of whether they are good, bad or indifferent without being misled by their marketing hyperbole or any number of inspection metrics.
On a recent Australian trip I visited several schools to discuss edtech and incubators. It was looking like nothing out of the ordinary until the last school I saw quite unexpectedly turned out to be the best educational establishment I have ever seen.
Yes, it’s a private school, but in Australia that’s not a big deal (unlike the UK) because almost 40% of kids go to private schools. This school wasn’t outstanding because of their facilities (which were OK), it isn’t in a prestigious location and to be honest I doubt it’s even well-known by many parents outside the local area.
What set it apart was the ethos of educational excellence that you could see and feel in every classroom, student and teacher. The school already has BYOD, team teaching, gamified learning and the flipped classroom – heck they even design their own furniture; not because these are trendy educational fads, but because they help deliver exceptional education.
Underpinning all of this is a strong management not led by a single ‘super head’, but a group of highly experienced teachers who connect directly with students and parents, and who don’t hide in their offices tweaking spread sheets for bureaucratic reports.
There is of course an exceptional principal, who has built an institution and culture that will transcend his tenure. I am sure not every teacher in this school is outstanding when they arrive, but the focus is clearly on helping get them there quickly or getting them out the door.
To put you out of your misery, the school I’m writing about is Northern Beaches Christian School in Terry Hills, NSW (about 25km from Sydney’s CBD). The principal is Stephen Harris, who was Australian Secondary Principal of the Year (NSW) in 2011. During his tenure Stephen has not just built an outstanding school, but also overseen the launch of the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL), HSC Online and nurtured a close partnership between NBCS and Macquarie University. He often gets asked to speak at international education events, but to our great loss he has never been invited to speak in the UK. Rather than waiting for an invitation to speak at a conference, Stephen is bringing Australian educators to London in October as part of the SCIL Vision Tour of Europe.