BYO Scholarship: an innovative path to excellence

Self-starters wanted … Queenwood’s Build-Your-Own Scholarship supports talented, dynamic learners to pursue their dreams. Photo: Queenwood School

The inaugural recipient of Queenwood’s Build-Your-Own Scholarship loves to write: she writes about flame-haired heroines with crimson lips who carry daggers in their boots; she writes about storms that ‘claw through the ground hunting for prey’; she assiduously reviews literature on her blog ‘BookAddicts’. Her heroes are authors: she thinks J.R.R.Tolkien is ‘ever-glorious’; she thinks C.S Lewis is ‘thought provoking’; she wants to be a ‘story-weaver’ like J.K.Rowling. She is 10 years old and already steadfast in her desire to attend Oxford University to study literature. She is an excellent English student and she does well in mathematics but she works slowly so her examination results are affected and she is unlikely to qualify for an academic scholarship; but she does deserve a scholarship. So what does she do? She applies for a Build-Your-Own Scholarship at Queenwood.

If this sounds like your child she may be the ideal candidate for a new scholarship program being offered at Queenwood School on Sydney’s Lower North Shore.

The Build-Your-Own (BYO) Scholarship seeks to identify uniquely gifted and talented students who may otherwise go unrecognised.

Specifically aimed at unconventional high-achieving students, the BYO Scholarship sees applicants augment academic results with demonstrated skill, personal references and a structured interview. The goal is to uncover the full breadth of a student’s capabilities and capacity to contribute dynamically to the life of the school.

Students who show exceptional aptitude in any field are encouraged to apply and while an excellent report card is a prerequisite, topping the ACER scholarship exam is not. Queenwood has found that the most passionate learners are not always the best exam takers. The BYO process is calibrated to capture outstanding talent not readily divulged by exam results alone.

“Some schools offer scholarships just to the students who score the top marks in the scholarship examination. We shortlist the top 10 to 15 candidates and conduct a tough interview engaging them in an intellectually challenging discussion. The strongest performers in the interviews were not necessarily the top exam scorers. In the last scholarship round the candidates who ranked 2nd and 14th secured academic scholarships,” says Emma Macey, Queenwood’s Director of Admissions.

“You would find that just below the top, there are candidates who achieve top marks in General Reasoning even if they are slightly lower in the reading and writing sections. This indicates that they are intelligent, have potential and may perform well in the interview. Those students make a valuable contribution to the school community by engaging energetically in classroom discussion and lifting the overall level of discourse,” Mrs Macey says.

Another aim of the BYO Scholarship is to address a perceived gap in the independent schools scholarships offering: that of students from middle-income backgrounds for whom full fees are too onerous but their financial circumstances are such that they don’t meet the criteria for a full means-tested scholarship, says Mrs Macey.

“Queenwood offers a contemporary liberal education that encourages students to build knowledge of a broad range of topics; to do this effectively we must ensure that we have a diverse range of students from a range of socio-economic backgrounds who are able to participate in intellectual discourse. We wish to expose our girls to a wide variety of people and ideas to help them grow in their understanding of the world.”

Queenwood recently awarded their inaugural BYO Scholarship to Maya Le Her who will join Queenwood’s 2019 Year 7 class. Her successful application encapsulates the talent-centric ethos underlying the BYO Scholarship’s broad remit.

Infectious enthusiasm … Maya Le Her’s talent and passion won her the inaugural BYO Scholarship. Photo: Anna Le Her

“Maya is the daughter of an old girl. She’s a very talented writer and she compiled an extraordinary portfolio of stories, photographs and ideas evidencing a true passion for literature. Her test results were exceptional in English but she only got through about half the Mathematics section — Maya scored well in the sections she did answer but she wouldn’t have made the cut on her exam ranking,” Mrs Macey says.

On the strength of her portfolio, Maya’s application was referred to the Catalyst Coordinator at Queenwood, Dr Rosalind Walsh, who supervises high potential learners at the school. After reviewing Maya’s test paper, she concluded that that Maya “is not a poor mathematician; she is a slow, methodical mathematician. It is likely that she is a ‘thinker’ who needs time to process information and respond accordingly. She is probably better at coursework than examinations and we can work with that.”

‘The point is that Maya is brilliant, engaged and her enthusiasm is infectious. She’ll be an asset to the school,” Mrs Macey says.

“The BYO Scholarship is consistent with our approach to general admissions as it adopts a robust procedure that ensures equity between applicants without compromising our primary objective of empathetically supporting the circumstances of individual families. We expect that the bespoke approach that we take to the BYO Scholarship program will continue to attract interesting, passionate and curious young women to the Queenwood community,” Mrs Macey says.

BYO Scholarships are available for Year 7 and 10. Applicants are required to prepare a portfolio of their own work and nominate two referees outside of their immediate school/family circle who know them and their skills well.

The best portfolios demonstrate talent, self-motivation and enthusiasm for learning, Mrs Macey says. She recommends that interested students start preparing now for next year’s application round to ensure that their work is of the highest quality.

For more information on the Build-Your-Own Scholarship see:

BYO Scholarship: an innovative path to excellence
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Macquarie Grammar School: a school for the 21st century

An urbane education … Macquarie Grammar School’s city setting offers students ready access to Sydney’s best cultural and sporting facilities.

An office block at the south end of Clarence Street in Sydney’s CBD may be an unlikely spot for a high school but breaking new ground is at the heart of the Macquarie Grammar School (MGS) ethos.

Styling itself a “21st century grammar school”, MGS is forging a new school model that capitalises on its urban setting to offer students a sophisticated education with contemporary relevance.

“It’s the way of the future,” says MGS Headmaster Mr Rekouniotis. “Traditional schools have a fence and a playground, we’re in a highrise in the CBD with access to the city’s top cultural and sporting facilities.

“We use city resources to produce a real-life educational program. When our economics students study the stock market, they walk over to the Australian Securities Exchange. Our Art class can walk to the NSW Art Gallery for a lesson. Our Biology students learn about plant life at the Botanic Gardens, we have swimming classes at the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre. At a traditional school, visiting those sites would entail an excursion but here students can go on a number of excursions in a day without missing a lesson.”

Cultivating knowledge … Macquarie Grammar School students enjoy an open air class at the Botanic Gardens.

Mr Rekouniotis says that another aim of the school is to acclimatise students to corporate culture to prepare them for a professional career.

“Our students are far more mature than others and I am sure it’s because of the environment. We let them leave the school at recess and lunch to explore the city. When they go buy lunch they can go to any cafe in town, just like everyone else. They’re influenced by the behaviour of the office workers around them in the city not just the school environment.”

“Students love it here because they are treated like adults, they come and go during breaks as they like. The onus is on them to arrive on time and return to school on time. They are accountable and responsible for their learning. This model produces the greatest growth in students both emotionally and academically that I’ve seen,” Mr Rekouniotis says.

It’s not just students that love the location, parents do too, he says. “Parents are time-poor and it’s easy to travel together with their children to the city and go home with them. Some of the students even have lunch with their parents. Here the students don’t have to be picked up, they just walk to their parents’ workplace after school and they go home together.”

Culture of excellence … Macquarie Grammar School Headmaster John Rekouniotis (pictured at right) takes pride in his students’ strong work ethic.

As a small school, MGS has fewer students than the average primary school, but that it is one of its great advantages, says Mr Rekouniotis. No one slips under the radar at MGS. “I have a student welfare officer who oversees every student in the school, liaises with parents, talks with students every day. If there is a problem with attendance or performance, she talks to them to find out why. Are there issues at home? Are they homesick? We uncover problems almost instantly and pass on the information to the other staff. You’re not a number here. I know every student by name and so do the other teachers,” he says.

Of this tight-knit population, approximately half are international students attracted by the school’s excellent academic reputation, Mr Rekouniotis says.

The school’s house system assigns a tutor to every student and teachers provide before and after school learning assistance. MGS has a strong STEM emphasis and encourages girls to pursue these subjects. “Girls and boys are treated equally here and girls do just as well as boys. Our top students at all levels of maths last year were girls,” he says.

Another drawcard for international students is the school’s very effective ESL course, says Mr Rekouniotis. “The High School Preparation program (years 7-10) is an intensive course to progress students into the mainstream of the student body. We’ve learned how to develop English language skills very quickly — usually within two to three terms. I think we’re the only independent school that runs this program.”

“My greatest joy is when I hand out a certificate of High School Preparation to a student. They come here hardly speaking English and a few months later, they’re communicating fluently with you,” he says.

The school’s cosmopolitan makeup informs its atmosphere and academic outcomes, Mr Rekouniotis says. “Our student body reflects the multicultural nature of Australia. There’s no dominant culture in the school. Multiculturalism is strongly espoused and reinforced at the school. The level of respect and support that the students give to each other is enormous. I’ve never seen it at another school.”

“Our students are not necessarily exceptional just very diligent. Their cultural background encourages focus on study. Many of our domestic students come here because of that attitude.  They respect education and are determined to do well in school.”

The school’s HSC results speak for themselves, Mr Rekouniotis says. “We’re focused on ensuring that our students go on to university. None of them go into the trades.”

Macquarie Grammar School: a school for the 21st century
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New super school for Bathurst

Power coupling … The Scots School headmaster David Gates, right, is looking forward to maximising his students’ opportunities following the school’s union with All Saints’ College. Credit: The Scots School

Two of state’s leading independent schools, All Saints’ College and The Scots School, have put aside their longstanding rivalry in favour of a merger.

All Saints’ was on the market for more than a year before The Scots School’s parent body emerged as the winning bidder.

The news came as a surprise to observers as the Bathurst-based co-ed boarding schools have historically played up their differences and are administered by different churches.

The Scots School is owned by the Presbyterian Church while All Saints’ was run by the Anglican Diocese of Bathurst until its recent purchase by the Presbyterian Church of NSW.

The All Saints’ sale was precipitated by the Diocese’s financial difficulties and the proceeds will go toward retiring debt.

Anglican Bishop of Bathurst Ian Palmer welcomed the sale, saying that it is in the best interests of the All Saints’ community. “It will set the college on a pathway that will enhance its status as the leading educational institution in the Central West in a way that the diocese does not have the resources to do.”

The schools announced their new partnership on August 29 of this year but intend to remain separate entities for the immediate future with plans to eventually integrate, possibly as soon as 2019.

All Saints’ Head of College, Steven O’Connor was upbeat about the school’s prospects under its new regime.

“Today’s announcement is the commencement of a bright new future for the college,” Mr O’Connor said. “It represents the best possible outcome for all stakeholders, and will see minimal changes to the day-to-day operations of the college.”

Locals and alumni have reacted quite positively to the joint venture. Facebook comments on the Western Advocate’s report of the merger ranged from enthusiasm for a larger school in the area: “a fantastic opportunity for two great schools to become a powerhouse” and “a great move. Will make a great sized school with heaps of opportunities for the students” to speculation about how it will impact the local rugby union competition: “Well that is going to make for an interesting trophy season in 2019.”

These sentiments were echoed by The Scots School Headmaster David Gates who told the Western Advocate that there is much to look forward to in the alliance.

“It’s all about maximising the quality facilities we have across the two schools,” Mr Gates said.  “It’s a chance to enhance the academic and co-curricular programs and the strengths of both schools will be even greater.”

Mr O’Connor agreed, predicting an upsurge in student numbers coming up to the 2019 school year. “If we maintain our current enrolments until the start of 2019 we will start the new school with around 750 kids which is a good size school,” he said.

“I would anticipate in five years’ time those numbers could grow from 750 to 900 or even 1000. I’m very optimistic about what this could mean five years down the track.”

Some of the growth will be spurred by a likely fee reduction to bring All Saints’ into line with Scots, which reduced its fees by 30 per cent this year.

“I anticipate the two schools next year would have the same fee structure,” Mr O’Connor said. “I understand Scots are very pleased with their new fee structure and they are the new owners so they will ultimately determine that.”

But while there’s strength in numbers, the larger aim is to combine their resources for a sustainable future focused on excellence, Mr Gates said.

“We believe the merger of two respected schools in Bathurst will provide students with a wider choice of subjects and co-curricular opportunities at every level of their education and will provide students of both schools with enhanced opportunities to develop their interests and character.”


All Saints’ College to Become a Fully Independent Anglican School — Anglican Diocese of Bathurst website

One school and one future — Murray Nichols, Western Advocate, August 30, 2017

Presbyterian Church of NSW buys All Saints’ College — Announcement to The Scots School community, The Scots School website, August 30, 2017


New super school for Bathurst
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