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.”

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


The McDonald College: a high-performance education

When I’m performing it’s like I’m so much more confident. In that moment, I don’t have any worries in the world. It’s like heaven. I love it.Meg Mac, chart-topping singer-songwriter and graduate of The McDonald College

Does that sound like your child? Do you want to support your child’s natural abilities but find it hard to fit lessons/training/auditions around school and homework? If so, The McDonald College in Sydney’s Inner West might be the solution to your dilemma.

Peak performers … The McDonald College has a strong dance program including ballet, modern and musical theatre streams.

Centrally located in North Strathfield, the independent co-ed performing arts school nurtures talented students from years 3 to 12.

Its unique immersive approach emphasises academic excellence while allowing students to pursue their passions for two hours every day with dedicated tuition in either acting, ballet, dance, music, musical theatre or elite tennis. With all the coaching provided in-school, students can focus intensively on their training free of the demands involved in commuting to far-flung extra-curricular activities.

To develop their gifts fully, students often need to perform or compete at an elite level. The McDonald College offers students flexible schedules to help them meet their out-of-school commitments while ensuring that they maintain their academic studies.

Many students have the gift of natural ability but require specialised support to convert their gifts into the talent necessary for outstanding performance.

Reaching for the stars … The McDonald College offers specialised support to help students hone their gifts into talents.

These students do best when their exceptional qualities are cultivated and sympathetically managed says principal Maxine Kohler.

“Gifted and talented children are uniquely special and are often acutely aware of their difference in relation to their peers.

“Teaching these students requires a deep understanding of the personality traits that feed their creativity,” she says.

The school’s success is evident in the achievements of its performing arts alumni including pop star Meg Mac, Romper Stomper star Sophie Lowe and Heath Ledger scholarship winner Mojean Aria.

In 2013, the college added tennis to its roster of specialist programs partnering with Voyager Tennis Academy. With two international championship wins this year, the school won the NSW Tennis Award for Most Outstanding School.

Focus … The McDonald College is the Most Outstanding School in the state as awarded by NSW Tennis.

Powering every star is a deep well of creativity. In supporting and celebrating this characteristic the college produces not only excellent performers but high academic achievers well prepared for the modern workplace.

Once considered the preserve of artists, performers and advertisers, creativity is of increasing practical value throughout our fast-changing global economy.

At the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, it was named, along with critical thinking and complex problem solving, as one of the three primary skills requisite for success in the next decade.

With the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence entailed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, humankind’s unique creative capacity is of greater importance than ever, the WEF predicts in its 2016 The Future of Jobs report.

“Creativity will become one of the top three skills workers will need. With the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, workers are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes,” the WEF says.

21st century skills … creativity will be the key to success in the next decade, says the World Economic Forum.

This WEF’s prognosis is borne out by Year 10 acting student and entrepreneur Ali Kitinas who, at 16, is believed to be the nation’s youngest CEO.

Her beauty product company Freedom Scrub recycles coffee grounds to produce an ethical and sustainable skin cleanser. A portion of the profits is donated to the Hope Foundation Hospital providing health and medical services to impoverished children in Kolkata, India.

The social enterprise has attracted wide media attention and Ali counts Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson as a mentor but performance remains her first love.

“I’m a very passionate performer, but I always knew that it would be really hard to gain financial security in that field,” she told Mamamia. “That’s why I went into business, so that I could have the financial security to pursue my other passions.”

Talented, accomplished and ambitious: Ali’s self-assured dynamism is emblematic of the The McDonald College ethos.

“Our environment is supportive and nurturing of creativity enabling us to graduate students that are lateral thinkers and excited about life beyond school. Whether their chosen career is on the stage as a performer or in the world of medicine, law or global business, our students are confident communicators, distinguished leaders and diverse role models,” says Principal Kohler.


Meg Mac interview – Poncho TV

Iconic Australian film Romper Stomper to be recharged as Stan original TV series — Media release, Screen Australia, August 1, 2017

Mojean Aria awarded 2017 Heath Ledger Scholarship — Inside Film, June 2, 2017

The 10 skills you need to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution — Alex Gray, World Economic Forum website, January 19, 2016

At 16, Ali Kitinas is Australia’s youngest CEO (and her mum’s boss) — Belinda Jepsen, Mamamia, June 15, 2017