Dr Malpass reflects on an eventful year and makes some observations on current trends in the teaching profession.


In reflecting on the year gone by, I would firstly like to acknowledge the handful of our Grammar staff who are moving on to other adventures next year.

From the Women’s Association Office and the Grammar Shop we farewell both Mrs Jenny Booth and Mrs Kim Rossleigh after many years of service to the School. From our Science department we farewell Mrs Terry Kelso after nineteen years and Dr Andrew Haines following his twenty-five years at Grammar (including his time as the Director of Science); we wish them both the best in their respective retirements. That said, Dr Haines would appear to be following in the laudable recent tradition of Science masters at College Street who formally retire only to begin a new career at Grammar moments later as one of our important roster of substitute teachers. So, Andrew, in the spirit of Tania, Gregg, Malcolm, Mark and the rest, we look forward to seeing you at the end of January. Finally, we part company with the inimitable and irreplaceable Mr Bill Raeside who has also completed almost a quarter of a century at Grammar. For most of this time he has been our long-standing Director of Technical Services, a title which represents just a small part of what he has contributed to the life and running of the School for so many years. Bill has been such an essential presence for so long at the School that we aren’t quite sure what life will look like without him.

I would also like to pay tribute to the fundamental work done by the Trustees of Sydney Grammar School. Their support of the School, their dedication to all that Grammar stands for, and their wise governance through the challenges of recent years has been of such immense support for me as Headmaster. Further, I cannot emphasise enough my thanks for the support and guidance of our Chairman of Trustees, Emeritus Professor Richard Henry. Richard and I have seen quite a bit together, and his willingness to be side by side in the trenches when needed will not be forgotten.

It is also essential to acknowledge the dedication, skill and professionalism of our staff without whom the many and variously inspirational environments across the School would not exist as they do. I know our boys in their individual ways genuinely appreciate what the staff do with and for them on a daily basis. The vital contribution of our staff to the life of the School and the richness of a Grammar education, as well as their academic calibre, is integral to the positive atmosphere that exists here.

Our Prefects of 2023 have once again been such a support to me and to the School community. Their work was more or less faultless throughout the year, and their role in energising the School through their community and charitable endeavours has contributed enormously to the spirit of the School. The leadership of Senior Prefect Jeffrey Chen and the efforts of his fellow Prefects would without doubt have met the studied approval of AB Weigall. I’m grateful to Jeffrey for his calm demeanour, his loyalty to the School and his dedication to the best of Grammar. He and his Prefects have maintained a standard for the Prefect bodies of the future at Grammar, a standard that the current Prefects are already seeking to match under the leadership of 2024’s Senior Prefect Nirav Keshava.

2023 at College Street has been an excitingly vibrant year. While that sentence might seem at first glance the stuff of headmasterly cliché, one should not forget that 2022 commenced with very high rates of the pandemic virus and serious limitations imposed on schools. By contrast, a liberated spirit seems to have animated the life of the School during 2023, with a heady profusion of events throughout our calendar, ranging from our concerts, parental gatherings, Old Sydneian reunions, and much more. I think it is fair to note that our Director of Community, Ms Sharon Ditmarsch, has been more than a little busy.

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Over the last couple of years, I have been conscious of focusing my communications to the School community on the fundamental values of our School given the unsettled landscape of the pandemic. It seemed prudent to be clear about what Grammar stood for in those years in which so much was being re-evaluated.

Thus it was that we re-stated Grammar’s dedication to an unadulterated tradition of academic ambition, Grammar’s unadulterated dedication to music and the creative arts, and Grammar’s unadulterated commitment to sport for all our boys whatever their personal level of expertise. Given that those three pillars of the School are fundamental to the experiences of a Grammar boy, it is perhaps unsurprising that the School remains (in an almost limitlessly rich variety of ways) populated by the boy who loves mathematics, plays trombone and dabbles in ceramics and football, who simultaneously appreciates the easy and profitable company of those who are preparing for Olympiads in Science, who meddles with jazz saxophone whilst also enjoying his basketball team’s highs and lows. Each of our boys chooses his own unique pathway through Grammar.

Across the landscape of our School, whichever campus they occupy, our staff remain variously and individually dedicated to the intrinsic purpose of a Grammar education. Nonetheless, I was once asked in the course of a Trustees’ meeting whether I was worried about the School’s ability to secure top-quality teachers. The question, as it happens, was posed by a former Trustee, Michelle Simmons, a recent Australian of the Year and international trailblazer in quantum physics. Michelle was unsurprisingly concerned about the dearth of well-qualified and capable science and mathematics teachers in the teaching sector. My categorical answer to her question then, as it would be now, was that Grammar continues to attract impressive candidates across all our subject disciplines. At Grammar, our boys are taught by fine masters who care deeply about their subject and know their material. But Michelle’s question emboldened a thesis I’ve nursed for some time about the teaching profession more generally in this country, well beyond the bounds of Grammar.

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I would put to you all that the very things you value about our fine Grammar teachers are endangered in the profession in Australia for systemic reasons. Simply put, teachers are being grown in a different way in recent times, and whilst fine teachers are still coming into the profession, those systemic issues are a silent and largely unrecognised cause for concern.

In recent decades, certain changes have imposed themselves upon the teacher training landscape, changes of undoubtedly good but somewhat short-sighted intent. The changes I am mindful of here are the rise of the Bachelor of Education as an undergraduate pathway to a career in teaching and the parallel development of the process of accreditation and oversight of teachers by the New South Wales Education Standards Authority.

Whilst the Bachelor of Education degree has many laudable components, it changes one fundamental aspect of the traditional education of future teachers, namely that they generally no longer need to complete a full degree in their chosen subject area or ‘specialism’ (and I should note that I have spoken at length with a Professor of Education from one of Sydney’s leading universities about these issues). In other words, rather than becoming degree level experts in an academic field and then taking on a postgraduate teaching qualification, young people can leave school and begin to train as teachers before they have acquired more than HSC level knowledge. In this model, the craft of teaching risks being advanced at the cost of genuine and enduring subject knowledge and understanding.


If I may indulge in an example, consider yourself in my position interviewing a range of applicants for an English teaching position at Grammar. One question I have typically asked is for the candidate to name their three favourite Shakespeare plays that they would take to a notional desert island. Asking an English teacher to name three favourite plays by Shakespeare seems pretty tame. However, the response I witness with interview candidates in more recent times is not always calm. Usually, the candidate can name three plays, perhaps with some searching hesitation on the third. I then prod further and suggest they comment on the very progressive way in which Shakespeare explored gender and power structures in the plays they’ve just selected. The response at this point invariably either reveals someone who really knows his or her stuff or someone who politely panics in the headlights of paper-thin subject knowledge. Grammar boys like asking searching questions, pursuing intellectual challenges and interesting red herrings, and that is why they have such a rich experience with our staff who really do know and care about their subjects. But that is what all teachers should be able to provide across the sector. Thus, I note that at Grammar we are planning to do our small bit to address this by instituting the Sydney Grammar School Teacher Education Scholarship programme which commences in 2024.

Further compounding this situation across the profession is the requirement nowadays to achieve NESA accreditation to teach in our schools. No doubt, the architects of the accreditation system had the high ideals of accountability and enduring professionalism in mind, but the reality is that our teachers across the state need to spend far too much time satisfying the demands of a regulatory body which charges teachers to be regulated. In fact, teachers would benefit from fewer external regulatory hurdles and more time for dedication to their subject. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers as imposed by NESA are valuable, but the heavy-handed imposition of them on the life of a teacher is rather less so.

Finally, given an environment in which teachers run the risk of graduating with a relative paucity of subject knowledge, it is worth observing that a not inconsiderable proportion of commissioned educational advisors regarding curriculum change in NSW are of the view that the teachers should cease to be the ‘sage of the stage’ in the classroom and instead see themselves as being functionary ‘guides on the side’ and as co-learners with their pupils. Somewhere in there lies the logic that the internet has limitless information and that the teacher must admit his or her manifest limitations.

Such an approach grotesquely misunderstands what great teaching is about, and how it is achieved. We hear much about the crisis of teacher shortages, particularly as a result of mid-career teachers leaving the profession. Such a pattern cannot be entirely divorced from the fact that too many are only lightly invested in their subject areas.

By contrast, it is a fundamental cultural given at Grammar that it is important to know your stuff, to have a deep respect for knowledge and a deep commitment to genuine hard graft in our various academic, musical, artistic and sporting endeavours.

Underpinning, delivering and inspiring this knowledge and commitment are the fine men and women across the three campuses of the School.

Yes, challenges exist, but we remain dedicated to the vision of a Grammar education and its deep integrity of purpose for all our boys.