Newsmaker: Simon Gipson

St Michael’s Grammar School’s SIMON GIPSON is the first school principal to be awarded the Lynda Gratton Business Leader of the Year Award.

I HAVE been involved in schools as a teacher, consultant and school leader for the past 30 years, across Australia and in south-east Asia, the US and the UK. During that time I have seen a significant shift in the expectations of schools and schooling.

Teachers and schools are called upon more and more to assume roles once occupied by others. Schools are one of the last remaining social institutions to which we all connect. The decline in church attendance, the fragmentation of neighbourhoods and communities, and the transience of a global workforce mean schools have taken on a greater role.

Any time there is a societal issue that arises, or a politician has a perspective, schools are expected to solve it - from gambling to learning to swim.

Schools have to ensure young people have a moral and value centre in their lives that provides opportunities for them to learn how to function effectively as individuals in a community.

So it is deeply worrying that so much emphasis has been placed by government on school performance in high-stakes mandatory, standardised testing, such as NAPLAN. These tests measure only a narrow band of attainment in a limited number of skills in the areas of literacy and numeracy. If we are to be a successful knowledge economy of the 21st century, the skills required by our young people are vastly different from these archaic and reductive attributes. Young people need to be given opportunities for independent, divergent thinking, for curiosity, and for safe and responsible risk-taking - prerequisites for creativity and innovation. They need to learn how to learn; they need to be taught to think about their thinking.

The rich and diverse communities of schools should be measured by how they meet a family's cultural, educational philosophical and social values.

It was an honour to be named the Lynda Gratton Business Leader of the Year for 2012. This is an award that arises from the work of many, in particular the school leadership team at St Michael's. All our staff play an equal and important part in ensuring that we provide the best learning environment for the young people in our care. Attracting, recruiting, inducting and sustaining quality staff enables us to achieve excellent outcomes.

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