St John’s is a growing school and is fast reaching its target enrolment number. This rapid growth over the past 5 years has brought with it positive and optimistic outcomes but at the same time for our families who invested some time ago in a smaller school, it no doubt raises questions and concerns about size.
Finding an optimal size – needs, wants and culture
The School at both Executive and Board level have examined this question about size, always with the aim of remaining a closely connected, intimate schooling community. Class size does matter. Gone are the days where fiscal strategy was based on maximising class numbers and ensuring teacher-student ratios remained high. At the same time a balance in our thinking was needed as costs of education were ballooning as were building projects, and there was an absolute desire to not only rationalise costs but to share those rises across a larger community.
However, even more prominent in our determinations of numbers are the needs of young people and their families. Schools must be well resourced with layers of specialised support and offer a myriad of opportunities that pave in-demand and unique future pathways. St John’s had at the heart of strategic vision this desire to personalise the schooling experience and tailor programs that capture the passions and interests of every student. That is best done with an optimal number of students in mind and the right number of staff to support the mission.
Other factors in determining the size of our school include:
- our play and recreational spaces, and for our Junior School the limits of those,
- the ideal number of students in each year that allows for successful social experiences,
- the size of cohorts that preserve demand for subject electives in senior schooling,
- having strong representation in extra curricula programs,
- allowing for diversity across multiple domains in our school community,
- the number of classrooms, specialised teaching areas like laboratories, theatres and creativity and design spaces.
First class service remains a priority
Teaching has changed. There is a layer of complexity and demand to it now that has not been there before. Teachers constantly evolve their practice, the curriculum is an ever-changing construct. The manner in which we assess and provide ongoing, personalised feedback adds to the challenge. The quality of service we provide to our families must be first-class. We all have less tolerance of inconsistency or mediocrity in our lives and that appreciation of people going above and beyond, where all families really matter and we set out to prove that. This simply means we need to make realistic and sensible decisions about the size of our school.
Comprehensive service provisions go beyond the classroom
Add to the mix the consideration of the division of labour in schools. More than 40% of our staff are non-teaching. Schools are multi-million dollar enterprises with the need to direct and lead business operations, human resources, astute marketing and communication plans, a tonne of administration services and welfare and wellbeing provisions. For every new class of students in the school there is not a direct, almost linear impact on the bottom line. Increasing enrolments is not a chase for increased dollars. Rather, more students can mean the provision of new and richer physical and human resources that strengthen the comprehensive service St John’s can and must provide and sustain us as a leading independent school in a very competitive market.
Scaffolding for specialisation and support
In our Junior School we have introduced more specialist options such as Science, Digital Technology, Wellbeing and Performing Arts. These all require specialist teachers joining the team and enabling facilities. Our Teams model in numeracy, literacy and spelling require year levels to be split in multiple groups each requiring more teaching, every year level has an increased and dedicated quantum of co-educator support and we have introduced wellbeing assistants and more counselling across the school. A similar story applies to our Middle School programs with the increase of Year 7 enrolments and the desire to sustain small core classes, with the introduction of essentials classes in Science, specialised support as part of our LIFT program, and in the number of co-educator hours and the investment in international student support.
The bottom line: student numbers may grow but class sizes will not
My point here is that while our overall student numbers grow, class sizes will not. Our target year level numbers are designed to ensure class sizes hover at the low twenty mark, with many scheduled classes during a week being less than that. In our senior years where we attempt to provide optimal subject choice so many classes are under 20.
New Facilities Audit and Master Plan under development
Our new Facilities Audit and Master Plan being developed this term will respond to the demands of improving and broadening our wellbeing, play and recreational spaces on all sites and I look forward to involving our school community in that process. We are not aiming to be a big school. The new Strategic Plan will be launched in the next month and I am confident this is road map for our school to remain being a community that is well connected and intimate and is a cultural beacon on the educational landscape.