Headmaster Speech Day 2015 Address

Justice Keane, Mrs Keane, Mr Howard Stack and Mrs Stack, Members of the Board of Trustees, Members of Staff, Distinguished Old Boys and Guests, Parents, Friends and Students of Brisbane Grammar School. It is my privilege to present the 146th Annual Report of Brisbane Grammar School.

I report to the community on a year of consolidation, consideration and challenge, and of endless efforts to advance the School’s strategic goals. By all of our familiar measures in the academic, extracurricular and student wellbeing domains, this has been a year of success. It was another period of celebrated academic achievement – one of the pillars of a BGS education.​

The year started with the news that the 2014 graduates attained exceptional academic results and set new Grammar benchmarks. Forty OP 1s were awarded and this number increased to a staggering 70 OP1 equivalent students, when combined with those who received bonus ranks. A total of 71.5% achieved an OP1-7 and 93.2% an OP1-13; both outcomes were the highest in the School’s historical record. The percentage of students in the range 1-15 was 96%. The QCS mean of 199.9 and 57.4% set a new record for the School. While, the median OP 4 score was the also BGS’ best ever result in the 23 years of QCS testing. The tertiary scholarships offered to our graduates exceeded $2m for the first time in the School’s history.

The OP system has served Queensland well, but in 2018 a new system of senior assessment and tertiary entrance for all students will be administered. The changes, a consequence of the review conducted by Australian Council for Educational Research, will be the most substantial educational reform undertaken in the state since 1992, the first year of implementation of the current OP system. (Matters & Masters, 2014).

The most significant change heralded under the new system involves assessment, whereby students in the senior years will receive results in each subject based on a combination of moderated in-school assessment (as is used in the current system) and external examinations. Additionally, students from 2018 will no longer receive an OP as an indication of their tertiary eligibility, receiving instead an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank.

BGS is well advanced in its preparations for these changes, having been active contributors to the review process and now having ongoing involvement through our experienced staff in the various advisory teams and subject trials. We look forward to being leaders in this new phase of education in Queensland.

The NAPLAN results of 2014 were also extremely pleasing and further reflect the overall strong academic culture of the School. The striking features of the Year 9 results included a noteworthy gain in grammar and punctuation; an upturn in spelling; and an imposing numeracy score, with over 44% of boys at the top of the NAPLAN scale. In Year 7, the results were higher in all five areas: writing, spelling and grammar and punctuation all improved quite significantly, while the numeracy mean improved with 49.0% of boys at the top of the NAPLAN scale. In Year 5 the results were also higher in four of the five areas: spelling, writing, reading and numeracy improved appreciably. 

While we rejoice in the results of our students we continue to investigate new methodologies that will enhance teacher instruction and student engagement. The concept of blended learning, while not new, is an avenue we are employing to strengthen our pedagogy. Similarly, the Massive Open Online Course we are developing, with the guidance of The University of Queensland’s online teaching team, will see us co-produce this country’s first open online learning course targeted expressly at high school students. We see accessible online study programs as an important part of the future of education globally and our joint endeavour with UQx is emblematic of our commitment to innovative and research-focused practice.

As we approach our sesquicentenary celebrations in 2018 and 2019 we are systematically investigating the next major building project. Our commitment is to build a state-of-the-art centre for the teaching and advancement of science, technology, mathematics and art (Watson & Watson, 2013) that will set new standards in BGS education. Like all projects, the planning is predicated on the direction of our educational strategy. The precinct must deliver spaces in which students and staff interact and form learning connections; spaces where students and staff gather for group discussion, lively debate or silent study; and spaces which enable pupils to work among like-minded peers and with teacher guidance. (Scott, 2012). Nowhere has the influence of the places we gather, in infusing passions and driving improvement, been better demonstrated than in our own Lilley Centre. It is right and proper, that, with one eye firmly on the future, we now look to replicate such impact.

While we focus explicitly on the intellectual development of students, we are also unreservedly committed to developing their emotional intelligence. In a speech at a schools’ conference, the former Headmaster of Wellington College in England, Sir Anthony Seldon, argued independent schools are "taking the lead" in preparing students for jobs required in the 21st century. He stated that "21st century employers need much more than the skills developed in exams: they also need what are patronisingly called ‘soft” skills’.” (cited in Gurney-Read, 2015).  These are skills of creativity, teamwork, empathy, grit, resilience and honesty. 

BGS has long held such views and has developed structures and programs that encourage global citizenry and opportunities for students to be part of an emerging world community. (Israel, 2013).  The School continues to explore learning through service as a pathway to creating responsible and accountable global citizens (Cress, 2005), and while existing projects have continued to grow and provide our boys with quality experiences, so too has our desire to develop a sustainable and meaningful service model.

The School’s boarding program has continued to grow in numbers and diversity. This year is the third consecutive year of increasing numbers within Harlin House. Academic enrichment, homework club, leadership programs, and the newly introduced public purpose program have all added to the residential experience.

Likewise, the outdoor education syllabus has witnessed change. The introduction of a new climbing tower, and changes to programs and activities maintain Pepperina Hill’s attraction as an exciting place for students to learn and play. Next year the School will add a further outdoor educator to the centre in order to augment programs and provide greater specialist care.

The School has continued to operate the most extensive extracurricular program of its type in the GPS Association. We remain one of only two schools who choose to be involved in all GPS premiership and championship sports and activities. BGS boys continue to participate in the program in huge numbers and very importantly, in a non-coercive environment. Further to this, it remains an aspiration of this School to continue to promote the notion of the all-rounder – the kind of boy who derives pleasure and enjoyment from participating in a number of sporting or cultural activities, or indeed, both.

At the very core of producing teams which are athletically and mentally ready to compete in a range of sports, is the need to foster a strong training culture. This is the vision of the Athletic Development Program. The program begins in Years 5, 6 and 7 and aims to teach and develop the basics of physical literacy and movement skills. In Year 8 strength and conditioning is introduced and throughout Years 9 to 12 athletes are coached through a progression of programs suitable to their individual status and requirements. Boys are regularly assessed to track adaption and guide future customised programming.

In sport and activities, GPS premierships were won in volleyball, debating and gymnastics; and placings registered in swimming, sailing, tennis, cross country, chess, and cricket. Further to this, BGS fencers achieved noteworthy success at local, state and national level. The School is proud to boast 76 boys earned selection for their state or country in an extraordinary range of activities in 2015.

The School’s cultural program was again impressive. Music concerts, drama performances and art exhibitions reaffirmed BGS as a vibrant and compelling home for the Arts. Grammar in Concert was an outstanding exhibition, with several treasured individual and collective performances. Seeing ensembles filled with Middle School students working together with Seniors was certainly a highlight and an example of the interconnectedness between years that defines BGS. Equally, the Senior and Junior School dramatic productions were once again stunning successes. Not only was the rendition of George Orwell’s classic, 1984, and Ingle Knight’s Taking Liberty, highly entertaining, they were also representative of the immense depth of talent at BGS.

One of the strengths of BGS is our teachers and the quality of their teaching. At the beginning of the year, the Framework for Teaching (Danielson, 2007) was released to the teaching staff. This “road-map” forms the foundation for a number of initiatives, including immersion programs for new teachers and evidence-based reviews of practice, leading to recognition of high quality performance. (Campbell & Smith, 2014).

In the latter half of the year, our middle leaders worked closely with world authority on developing teachers through professional learning, Professor Helen Timperley from the University of Auckland.  This project, supported by Independent Schools Queensland, involved 20 teams of teachers inquiring into the impact of teacher practice on student learning.

The development of all staff – teaching, specialised and ancillary – is a core agenda of the School (Martin & Schmidt, 2010). I am grateful for the collective efforts of our staff who willingly support the School’s objectives and ensure that the quality of their practice and subsequent impact on the boys’ learning is of the highest standard possible.

Now in its 13th year of operation, the Middle School remains a convivial, vibrant and stimulating place for our Years 5 to 8 students to learn and play. While, there have been changes in relation to the size of the student population, number of staff and infrastructure, there are a number of factors that have not altered, primarily the nurturing of students’ wellbeing and the delivery of an authentic middle years curriculum. The transition to the new model of middle schooling has been smooth and successful, with the maintenance of a dedicated Middle School precinct that serves as a distinct but still very connected part of the whole school. 

It is important to acknowledge the priceless contribution of a number of people to the School. First of all, I publicly recognise the important influence of the members of the Board of Trustees. Their judgement and practice are critical to our execution of agreed goals and future projects. I am indebted to the Chairman of the Board, Mr Howard Stack, who has, for many years, navigated the School through both its triumphs and struggles.

Furthermore, my special thanks are tendered to the members of the Senior Leadership Team for their staunch support of my tenure, and our learning community. I also want to make mention of three long-serving members of staff who have left the School for different reasons. Firstly, I remember a former colleague, Mr Greg Masters. He served at BGS for 21 years and died in tragic circumstances earlier this term. Secondly, I note the departure of Mr Tim Croxford who taught Physics at BGS for 23 and a half years. And after over 40 years of faithful service as both a mathematics teacher and willing contributor to the extracurricular program, Mr Kevin Smith moves into a more relaxed stage of his life. On behalf of the School, we wish Kevin and Jenny much happiness in the future.

It has been another terrific year of engagement for our community. Our Community Relations team organised a number of events, including alumni functions in Brisbane London, New York, Sydney and Melbourne. There was also a special Grammar at Gallipoli event, the School’s annual Open Day, where over 1,000 people visited the BGS campus, the Golf Day, Experience Northgate, the Art Show, and an exhibition where Old Boy David Malouf generously donated a collection of works to the School. The P&F Association and P&F Auxiliary were extremely active, hosting everything from activity-specific cocktail parties and dinners, to Fathers’ Day, Mothers’ Day and Grandparents’ Day events, individual year-group gatherings, and the Spring Luncheon.

I am thankful for the efforts of the many people who have supported the School. Our wonderful parent support groups contribute to the School in so many ways. In particular, I thank the following people for their work in significant community leadership roles: Mr Stuart Rees, President of the Old Boys’ Association, who has nurtured profitable involvement by our alumni; President of the Parents and Friends’ Association Mr Craig Chapman, who has been active in supporting the School’s many events; and Ms Genevieve Kenny-Fowler, who is President of a giving and caring P&F Auxiliary. I also make special mention of Old Boy, Mr Simon Fenwick, who donated $1.34 million to the School’s endowment fund, and I sincerely acknowledge all the donors who support our bursarial and Indigenous programs.

Moreover, I wish to offer my thanks and best wishes to the graduating senior cohort. They have been a most cohesive and self-motivated year group. The student leaders – Alester Fleming, Manning Clifford, Tom Fitzgerald, Sam Eadie and Michael Wolstenholme – have been splendid in their personal efforts, in their guidance, and in their consistent consultation with the student body. We wish the Year 12s well in their enterprises, buoyed by the knowledge that they have been shaped by the values of this great school, and I promise them that they will always remain part of the BGS community.

Brisbane Grammar School Headmaster
Anthony Micallef

Further Speech Day 2015 links