As Preshil’s Principal Marilyn Smith explains, there are many things that set Preshil apart from the stereotypical independent school, including its decision to exclusively offer the International Baccalaureate from 2019.
Located in the Melbourne suburb of Kew, Preshil is one of a small percentage of private schools that is independent of any religious affiliation. It is also the oldest progressive school in Australia, having resisted the industrial model of standardised classrooms and curriculum and instead focussing on the individual needs, progress and interests of each student.
From 2019, Preshil will exclusively offer the International Baccalaureate, while at the same time remaining an academically rigorous school.
In a survey recently conducted among staff, the most valued aspects of the school were identified as:
- The progressive, alternative approach to education
- The beautiful natural environment
- The sense of belonging to a small community
- The autonomy, agency and independence instilled in the students
- The culture of respect and individuality.
Historically, the Preshil approach has had a large focus on the individual and awakening the student at his or her own rate. But this still applicable today?
While there is a continued focus on the individuality and difference of each student there is an expectation that all students share the responsibility for their own progress that goes with the opportunity to choose one’s own area of interest and passion.
How would you describe the Preshil environment/school community?
Our students, from the youngest children in Kindergarten to the young adults finishing their secondary schooling, are nurtured and challenged in an atmosphere that inspires imagination, creativity and independent thinking.
Preshil families want their children to achieve at the highest level. They do not, however, accept that this achievement should come at the expense of their children’s wellbeing and happiness. They have questioned mainstream schooling and are not prepared to subject their children to a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to getting a high university admissions score in order to gain acceptance into a course that isn’t genuinely aligned with their goals. The school is sustained by a community of students and their parents who respect and uphold our values.
We are so lucky to have a really close-knit, supportive school community. There is strong involvement from families in various events and we value their input and their feedback.
The Arlington primary campus
The Arlington Primary School offers a challenging and carefully planned curriculum which uses an enquiry, project based approach combined with direct instruction and skills focussed teaching to support the progress of each child.
Arlington is in the candidate phase of implementing the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, with an emphasis on play-based learning in the Early Years and student agency in their learning.
The Kindergarten is a delightful space nested in the heart of the campus and offering an outstanding program with an exceptional ratio of teachers to children.
Arlington is a cluster of unique buildings set around the original homestead. The primary school clearly reflects the needs of children and is designed to inspire them and encourage exploration and creative play. Most of the buildings were designed by Kevin Borland and were done so with the children as ‘clients’ offering their thoughts and ideas. These spaces have been created as a place the children feel comfortable and safe and the children take ownership of their environment with ample space for play and creation, with cubby-building equipment, trees to climb and plenty of space for games and exercise.
Preshil has just finished the first complete restoration of one of the classrooms as the first stage of a major restoration project to which the school has committed to.
At Blackhall Kalimna
Rather than being dominated by rules, students at the Secondary School are supported to recognise their strengths and find their own sources of motivation.
Preshil is an authorised International Baccalaureate World School for the Middle Years (Years 7-10) and Diploma (Years 11-12) Programmes. These IB Programmes foster a distinctive set of attributes in those who undertake them, emphasising the development of the whole person, actively cultivating the attributes of our students as inquirers; knowledgeable thinkers and communicators who are principled, open-minded, caring, courageous, balanced and reflective; global citizens with an awareness of their common humanity.
The school’s attractive physical environment and our inclusive practices work together to ensure that Blackhall Kalimna is a welcoming and relaxed place. Our students feel at home and develop a sense of ownership of, pride in, and respect for the spaces and facilities the school provides. This respect extends beyond the spaces to the individual.
The pre-eminence and the quality of relationships between students and between students and their teachers are core values, carried from the earliest years at Arlington all the way through to the final years of secondary school.
The culture at Preshil will not suit students who are unable to form respectful relationships. Preshil students are not required to conform to arbitrary conventions to do with hairstyles and dress; we are not stuck with systems of oppressive gender stereotyping represented by male and female uniforms. We don’t require, or want, all our students to look the same.
2018 was the final year of phasing out VCE for Preshil. What were some of the challenges of transitioning to the IB?
The IB Programmes require rigorous, ongoing and specific professional development for our teachers, so it has been a very busy, but exhilarating year. Our teachers relished the opportunity to design their own courses and to have them approved as part of the IB Authorisation process, rather than delivering the set VCE content of the past.
Preshil students who have transitioned from the Middle Years Programme are already familiar with the approach and the terminology of the IB so this has been an easier transition than for students who start the Diploma with no previous IB experience.
There is always quite a significant step up from Year 10 to Year 11 and the IB unapologetically does require, and reward, consistent effort, as does the successful completion of the VCE.
However, it is a benefit to our students to know that all of the co-curricula activities we want students to continue during their final years of schooling, such as music, sport and out-of-school activities, are acknowledged and key elements in the portfolios students develop as part of the IB.
Looking ahead, what’s in store for 2019?
We are looking forward to:
- Completing our six-year transition to becoming an exclusively IB, progressive alternative to mainstream schooling;
- Offering more extensive opportunities for students to give feedback to teachers on their learning and their school experience;
- Having a second and slightly larger cohort of students join the Diploma Programme;
- Offering more opportunities for students in Years 9 and 10 to undertake international student exchange placements; and
- Expanding our Kindergarten to offer more places for children to enter the school.