Ethical Considerations

Postings on this site have been made with the permission of the schools/staff/students/parents concerned. To contact me, provide feedback, make suggestions or anything else, please email: Thanks, Bill Hubbard

Finding Your Way

This web-log reads in reverse chronological order. In other words, the first posting that you come to is the most recently written - and you will have to move to the bottom of this page to read how this whole blog began. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.


Today I was the guest of Fairholme College, Toowoomba (about two hours drive west of Brisbane) where the day’s events had been very well arranged by Linda Evans, Deputy Principal. Toowoomba is a unique city – some time ago it overtook cities interstate to become Australia’s most populated inland city (100,000) and is known for its gardens, more moderate temperatures and its slower lifestyle. Toowoomba hosts 13 independent secondary schools from a total of 16 within the city. This is an inverse ratio to the usual balance between private and public schools in Australia.

Fairholme college is special for it is Australia’s largest boarding school for girls, working with a proud Presbyterian tradition (840 students in total – about 280 boarding). Stan Klan (Principal) showed me a map in his office with a coloured pin indicating the place of origin for each of its students. Rural Queensland was well represented but so too were the other states – although diversity is celebrated at the school, this demographic represents an unusual challenge when RPs are concerned (more later).

Stan said that despite some of the perceptions that outsiders may have of Fairholme College being a ‘rich school’, it is not especially so. The school has fees only a fraction of what Brisbane independent schools ask and 20% of the FC students are sponsored by the state. Indeed, although the school was extremely well presented and had some marvellous facilities, Stan placed credit for the impressive academic and sporting results upon a supportive school environment and good teaching/coaching. Fairholme College has many claims to fame – but perhaps most understandable for Kiwis is that Cathy Freeman (Olympic champ) is a past student.

Later in the morning Linda and I spent time with Niki (yr 8 co-ordinator), Cathy and Vicky (both Heads of House). Fairholme College has just begun the process of moving towards a vertical pastoral care system – the rationale being the same as for so many other schools (promoting ‘family’ feeling, encouraging leadership, and so on). The current structure has been a junior school (Kindy to yr 6) and senior school (yr 7-12) but the school is moving towards adding a ‘middle school’ (yr 7-9) formation to best address the needs of this critical age.

The house system has already appeared to be fostering positive qualities among the girls – there being less peer-initiated ‘trouble’. In leading the House care groups, all the teaching staff participate – including the Principal. In matters of school leader, Stan works with a team of eight, including the Head of Boarding and the School Chaplain.

When Linda arrived five years ago, there was an expectation by significant numbers of staff that if there was conflict or suchlike, the school executive (management) would take the issue away (I wish that I had a $ for every time I have heard this in the last 2.5 weeks!). But from extensive experience in other schools, Linda could see that complying with teacher’s wishes would be reinforcing undesirable teacher behaviour – ie. Avoidance of addressing the source of the conflict and avoidance of addressing the relationship damage.

About the same time Linda came across Margaret Thorsborne in her travels and immediately recognised that RPs were the philosophy that was required to build a more productive teacher/student and student/student relationships. Because PRs were inherently harmonious with Christian ideals (the basis behind FCs ethos), Stan and the governing board had no hesitation in endorsing their implementation

Since then, there have been several large conferences and many smaller ones – run by trained staff. As Principal, Stan usually attends the large conferences to articulate the school’s viewpoint and to explain the harm done to the school. An unusual (for Rosehill College) dynamic is that it can sometimes be difficult to have the attendance of a parent at a conference – they may live 10 hours drive away (or further) and occasionally parents will fly in to Toowoomba to deal with serious issues. For even serious offences (with rare exceptions), the schools default policy is to deal with the issue restoratively rather than by the traditional suspension or other punishment. Because of the firm Presbyterian views of the board, students involved with drug or alcohol offences will be expelled without exception.

Linda suggested that whilst the Fairholme College school context does not demand major interventions as often as schools of a different population, it does benefit from the language of restorative practices which underpins daily practice. The culture has shifted significantly to include an expectation that problems are solved with all stakeholders and through a restorative conversation.

Today’s posting may be a bit shorter than most because the information was more a two-way process than in other schools. I was asked to share some details about Rosehill College’s current journey and whilst acknowledging our natural shortcomings, I was proud to talk about our RP accomplishments of recent times. Linda and the others were fascinated to hear about the tagging dilemma and how a restorative approach solved an apparently blocked process and I was asked to repeat the account in the staffroom during recess (interval) for the benefit of other staff.

Today was a reminder for me (once again) how RPs work best within a school environment based upon people-focused values, Christian or not – RPs cannot save a school from itself!

Many Thanks to Linda, Stan and the many friendly and gracious people I had the pleasure of meeting today – best wishes to staff and students.