At our core remains an unshakeable commitment to encouraging all children to progress at their own pace towards their own goals and to be respected as individuals in their own right. A commitment to our children to be nurtured and challenged in an atmosphere that inspires creativity and independent thinking in all areas of life and does not, overtly or subtly, use competition or punishment to motivate through the fear of failure. As global citizens we encourage an awareness of world issues and encourage effort to make a positive difference. We believe that education should prepare students to be thoughtful, peace loving and active citizens of the world. Preshil will remain a school that puts kindness, compassion and social relationships at the centre of its operations.
The Importance Of Play – For All Ages
“Play-based Learning” has become something of a mantra in most Early Years programs. But few teachers are able to articulate what this actually means or looks like in practice. Play is central to the development of thinking skills, conceptual development, sense of self and others and it forms an essential element of our programs throughout the School.
In the Kindergarten, the children together with their teachers as ‘pedagogical partners’, engage in imaginative ‘play worlds’ as a platform to investigate more deeply, allowing them to develop important symbolic representation and abstract thinking skills.
But the significance of ‘play’ extends way beyond the early years. Sadly, many schools are quick to set up and perpetuate the dichotomy of ‘work’ and ‘play’, losing sight of the value and the legitimacy of play as a core human need and a key to lifelong, rich and self-directed learning. As a society we elevate ‘work’ to the serious world of adulthood and relegate ‘play’ to the trivial pursuits of childhood. We do this with such every day, unthinking directions as ‘Stop playing and get on with your work’ and ‘Stop playing, this is serious”. Froebel maintained that “play is children’s work”, the very opposite of the idea that children don’t do anything serious. Engaging in play is the basis for creativity and valuing new ideas. Playing, making believe, acting, experimenting, tinkering, improvising, all of these are forms of play and are the pathways to new connections, generative mistakes, unintentioned outcomes and life changing inventions.
At Preshil, respect for children’s play and an understanding of its significance has been fundamental to the School’s approach to learning and is based on the pioneering work of Friedrich Froebel, who was a key influence on Margaret Lyttle’s thinking.
Schools too often force play out of learning altogether – it’s something you are not allowed to do – so play becomes disobedience, subversion and finally transgression. Organised, competitive sport is offered as legitimate play – with the serious object of winning. Playing sport is rigidly controlled through rules and penalties, actually the opposite of play.
The spectacle of adults with authority ascribing enormous significance to trivial matters justified as ‘work’ and dismissing some of the most challenging and inventive learning opportunities as mere play is not just embarrassing, but creates a dangerous divide between what teachers want to teach and what children need to learn.
The long-term significance of stripping play out of education leads us to the current situation where corporations have to teach their adult employees to play – in order to activate the long-dormant creativity that schools have unthinkingly suppressed.
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At both the Primary School and the Secondary School Preshil is full of sports crazy students.
Students at all levels play sport as part of the school program and in regular PE classes. As part of the electives program Preshil has offered classes in Fencing, Tennis, Tae Kwando, Swimming, Lawn Bowls, Boot camp, Rowing, Cross Country Running, Soccer.
Students play various versions of football, downball, foursquare, basketball, futsil and cricket and there is a particularly frenetic version of ‘capture the flag’.
Preshil is very supportive of all activity that leads to physical well-being, but does not use the motivation of winning, or the fear of losing, in either academic or sporting pursuits. Preshil has never been a part of the network of inter-school sporting competition, nor is there a system of inter-house sports. The school ethos does not privilege sporting prowess and does not lend itself to the idea of status accorded to champions and sporting heroes, even though these ideas are deeply embedded in Australian culture.
Many of our students do play competitive sport in clubs outside of the school, many of them at advanced and championship levels. We regularly have students take up places at tertiary institutions based on their sporting achievements and we are very happy to support students to reach these individual goals.
Students tell us that being able to concentrate on their sporting commitments outside of school, without also having to commit to participating in school sport, means that they are not conflicted in these loyalties and can conserve their energies for external competition.
We encourage all students to develop interests, friendships, commitments and connections beyond their school lives. However, for some students Preshil is quite simply not sufficiently focussed on competitive sport to satisfy their passion.
The International Baccalaureate At The Secondary School
Preshil is an authorised IB World School for the Middle Years Programme, a candidate school* for the IB Diploma Programme. Preshil is making the move away from the constraints and standardisation of the VCE, with its reductive approach to the disciplines and a narrow focus on competition as the impetus for learning.
The IB will allow us to offer a much more holistic and collaborative learning culture, rewarding individual research, community participation, creativity and global citizenship. These qualities have always been at the heart of Preshil’s approach; the IB will simply allow us to integrate this approach into all elements of students’ learning”.
Preshil’s Strategic Plan set out to establish the Secondary School as the only Victorian school whose sole offering will be the three secondary programs of the International Baccalaureate. The process for completing authorisation of the Diploma Program is well underway and expected to be complete by early next year; 2018 will see the last students graduate from VCE.
Preshil’s approach to the IB is both inclusive and innovative. It is strongly aligned to the School’s long term commitment to developing the independence and the creativity of each of its students in a way which respects their individuality; their goals, interests and capacities.
The Middle Years Program focusses on building these skills; on inquiry-based research and higher-order thinking. Students are required to develop their personal capacities, to question, to be open-minded, thoughtful and compassionate. We want them to experience the fun and joy of achievement as well as the confidence of finding their own voice and self-acceptance. By the end of the MYP they are prepared for something much richer, and more aligned with tertiary education, than the VCE.
Preshil is not interested in just offering the IB Diploma as a narrowly academic alternative to the VCE. Many people have formed this idea of the IB, but it is a limited, and in some ways a distorted, view; it has led to the common misconception many people have that the IB can only be undertaken by the most able and academic of students. This view completely underestimates the IB’s flexibility and emphasis on both collaboration and individuality.
The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP) provides a framework of academic challenge for the Australian National Curriculum.
The MYP encourages students to become critical and reflective thinkers, learners who identify and make connections between traditional subjects and the real world. Students develop a depth of knowledge and balance through the study of eight subjects: Arts, Individuals and Societies, Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Mathematics, Physical and Health Education, Sciences and Design.
Our community of learners is challenged to set goals that support them to reach their own academic potential. The learner profile emphasises the development of the whole person, actively cultivating the attributes of our students as inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, courageous, balanced and reflective, to become global citizens with an awareness of their common humanity.
Our teachers are eager to establish the International Baccalaureate at Preshil as innovative programs befitting the School’s long-standing reputation for offering a progressive alternative to the mainstream.
*Only schools authorized by the IB Organization can offer any of its three academic programmes: the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), or the Diploma Programme. Candidate status gives no guarantee that authorization will be granted.
For further information about the IB and its programmes, visit http://www.ibo.org
Approximately half of our parents choose to have their children sit for the NAPLAN tests. Preshil does not discourage parents, but we do want them to know that they have the right to exercise this choice. This does mean that the sample size is small and the overall picture NAPLAN produces is inconclusive at best.
We do not teach to the tests and actively avoid turning NAPLAN into a big deal. This means that our children neither fear nor ascribe great importance to them.
NAPLAN works on a deliberately narrow focus because this produces results that are easier to compare. But the trouble with this is it distorts teaching to emphasising these readily testable skills at the expense of all the rich learning that is so much harder to assess and takes so much longer to develop. These are capacities, knowledge and skills our students actually need – creativity, initiative, ethical and critical thinking, collaboration and imagination. None of these are assessed or even useful in completing a NAPLAN test.
At Preshil we place great value on developing a strong and highly personalised love of reading for all our children. Children listen to adults read stories every day throughout the primary school, they talk about books and discuss the themes and concepts the writer is developing. Children are encouraged to find their own interpretations of stories, to listen to different interpretations and to disagree. We don’t tell them what to think, They read their own stories to each other and produce beautiful anthologies of their own writing. NAPLAN reduces reading to simplistic ‘find the right answer’ written comprehension – it’s too hard to assess reading at a more complex level.
NAPLAN tests the set of techniques needed to produce a standard ‘persuasive piece’ of writing so valued by journalists. At Preshil we encourage children to focus on writing in many different genres, according to their stage of development and passions. Stories, descriptions, straightforward accounts, manuals and instructions, critiques, reviews, fantasy and wild adventure, poems, plays and letters to loved ones. We want every child to know that the English language is theirs, as well as the teachers’, to dare to make up new words and to truly understand how words are formed and meanings constructed so it can serve their needs. We want them to have access to more than the 400 or so words that make up the world of TV and tabloids.
NAPLAN results take so long to be returned to schools that they are of no use at all as formative assessment tools. The results can identify areas of the curriculum the children have not yet ‘covered’ but then the teachers already know that.
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Competition is a normal part of life which is deeply embedded in almost every aspect of our society. Everyone can empathise with the joy and excitement of winning, the adrenalin rush of competing and the boost to motivation it provides.
However, to turn learning into a high stakes competition, especially for young children, is invariably damaging, counter-productive and can have devastating impact on the child’s own sense of themselves. Success in learning is key in shaping our identity and it is very sad to hear children judge themselves as ‘hopeless’ or ‘dumb’; labels that can become self-fulfilling, irreversible and a pathway to victimhood.
Judging children and ranking them against other children of the same age flies in the face of all we actually know about vastly differing rates of development, personality, prior learning and the ongoing capacity of the human brain to change. At Preshil we do not use competition to define a child’s worth, status or identity.
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In the same way that we do not privilege ‘winners’ at Preshil we don’t single out and privilege some students as ‘leaders’; we don’t subscribe to a conventional hierarchy of leaders and followers. Passion, commitment, overcoming obstacles and non-conformity, even eccentricity may not present as conventional school leader qualities, but may well be the starting point for leading. In the current climate where constant approval and affirmation from social media shapes a person’s sense of self there is an alarming silencing of diversity and the willingness to express a different view. At Preshil we encourage every student to find their own voice and to find the courage which would allow them to speak up, even when they are a lone and possibly uncomfortable voice.
The International Baccalaureate identifies leadership as a voice of dissent, to stand up for someone being bullied , stand apart from the mob rule and refuse to condone the underlying racism, sexism and bullying that is fobbed off as ‘it was only a joke’. We want our students to see that leadership involves much more than the right suit and a bright blue tie.
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Our fees are a barrier for many families who would love to send their children to Preshil. It is sad that the elements we see as fundamental for every child are not more widespread and available. At Preshil we have teachers who know every child and who go out of their way to cater to their needs, in an environment which is welcoming, designed to encourage them to play, question and invent, rather than to control and conform.
Our fees are significantly lower than most other private schools. Preshil families do not pay for vast sporting fields and facilities, cared for by armies of maintenance workers. We have a very high ratio of teachers to students which allows team teaching, individual attention, highly qualified specialists and significant time for teachers to plan. We have a generous budget for teacher professional development, but we do not have a big marketing department or large numbers of administrative staff. We offer a very broad program made possible by running many smaller classes.
Most significantly Preshil is a small school with the capacity and determination to offer a rich, progressive and challenging education reliant on outstanding teachers. Our budget does not benefit from the economy of scale that underpins all mass production and quality assured mediocrity. One size in education does not fit all and your child at Preshil will not be expected to grow into an oversized, expensive, uniform or shrink to fit a standardized, pre-packaged curriculum.
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At Preshil students are free to choose their own clothes.
Some people read this to mean that we are a bit casual and not ‘rigorous’. People say, “They don’t even have to wear a uniform” as though this indicates some sign of moral laxity or failure of discipline. It is interesting to reflect on why school uniform is so widespread in Australia and why adults demand that children dress in clothes very different from those they wear if they have a choice – and much more formal and uncomfortable than most parents themselves choose to wear.
Children are very quick to read the symbolic message in rules and adult behaviour. When everyone is forced to look identical and punished for failing to conform, children are not likely to be fooled that they are valued as individuals. Non-conformity is read as transgressive. When the most common interaction between teachers and students is concerning uniform infringement it is hard to accept that a school’s priority is the wellbeing and progress of each child.
Uniforms don’t really make everyone look the same; they actually emphasise the differences in size and shape; they highlight the natural unfairness between the effortless grace of some children compared to the ungainly awkwardness of others. Children are easily persuaded that they are the wrong shape, when it is simply the uniform that is the wrong shape for them.
Children recognise the encoded message in the endless instruction to ‘do up your tie’, ‘pull your socks up’, ‘tuck your shirt in’, etc. Enforcing a uniform code demands that teachers engage in conversations which must seem to children to be petty and punitive; surely grown-ups have more important things to focus on? In a society where youth anxiety and depression continue to escalate we need to be questioning the wisdom of repressive traditions.
School uniforms also lock individuals into rigid gender stereotypes, much more so than the codes of dress acceptable in the rest of our community. It’s hard to find sound reasons for such a polarised and overt insistence on conformity to traditional male and female dress codes.
At Preshil our commitment to treat each child as an individual is not just a hollow claim. From their earliest years children at Preshil are free to wear what they truly like. Amazing hats, bright colours, warm and comforting jackets, extraordinary dress ups. They are free to run and jump, to be funny and to be comfortable. Seeing very young children trudging off to school in their hats, oversized blazers and frocks, bent over to balance their backpacks, it’s hard to reconcile this with anything we say we believe about play and about learning.
As our students become young adults they are free to express their individuality within the usual bounds of accepted casual dress. Some students choose to show their interest in fashion, others disregard it entirely, but they are free to be themselves. Needless to say none of our Secondary School boys choose to wear tailored shorts and long socks, teamed with a blazer and a tie.
There is nothing casual about this approach to our students; it is part of a deliberate culture of respect and the genuine celebration of difference.
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ATARS | VCE Results And Academic Rigour
At Preshil we are very keen to have our students achieve at the highest levels, in pursuit of their own goals; this may, or may not, involve a particular ATAR ranking, depending on the particular pathway they wish to pursue after secondary school. Most of these pathways involve entry to a tertiary institution and some of them require a rigorous commitment to academic excellence in several different subjects.
On the other hand, some pathways require the demonstration of skills, qualities and knowledge not able to be calculated by an ATAR ranking and many universities and tertiary institutions are discarding ATARS altogether, because they recognise that a simplistic rank from 0 – 100 is not an indicator for suitability to a particular course.
But ATARS provide a very easy method for schools to promote themselves as academically rigorous and some schools choose to promote themselves with a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the achievement of high ATARS for all their students. For most students ‘what it takes’ is to select the tried and tested subjects that are going to deliver the necessary high marks. Loving a subject is not a good reason to select it. A vast industry has developed in extra tuition and coaching for exams. Even if you want to ‘do Law’ you can’t risk the subjects that might be indicated. Some schools are so committed to academic rigour that they end up with multiple classes of Specialist Maths but struggle to get enough brave souls to run even one small class of Philosophy, or Music, or Art and certainly not Drama. Not academically rigorous enough.
We don’t have a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to high ATAR scores, especially when ‘what it takes’ is to strip away everything else from a young person’s life and force them to abandon the subjects and pursuits they love and are nourished by; those that give them a sense of their own self-worth and identity as human beings. Preshil is a school which fosters a vibrant intellectual and creative culture, rather than confining our students to the rigidly academic.
There is something quite shocking about the idea that adults – parents, teachers and the media who so love those league tables – are prepared to promote this fierce competitive race, knowing full well the impact it is having on those young people, who quite simply cannot sustain themselves faced with the prospect of a 90% chance of ‘failing’ to get into the top 10% ATAR ranks.
At Preshil we think it is important to encourage all students to think deeply about the adult life they would like to live. And about the qualities they most admire in adults they know and know about. We encourage them to think about the many different pathways to their goals – the way they can continue to pursue art or drama or community service and still get to become a doctor, an entrepreneur or even an academic.