Newington College

Frequently Asked Questions – Demographics Project

Information about our current thinking and motivations around the interlinked issues the College Council is exploring.

From the Council Chairman

Following last month’s announcement from the College Council we have received and heard a lot of diverse and insightful feedback from our community and stakeholders. I would like to personally thank everyone who has taken the time, via our round table discussions or in writing via email, to constructively engage in this process.

It’s now been a few weeks since we shared the interlinked issues that the College Council was looking to explore, and there are some recurring questions which we have been receiving. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you some of the frequently asked questions – and their answers – to assist our community in understanding the issues more as they are explored through the round table discussions.

We are posting the frequently asked questions here and we will be updating them should any more questions come up that we think are useful for our broader community to hear as we gather the feedback. As no decisions have been made, we want to keep all parts of Newington community engaged and informed as we gather information for Council consideration.

Thank you sincerely.

Tony McDonald (ON 1976)
Chairman, Council of Newington College

What were the key drivers of this public process?

Newington is committed to its founding fathers’ vision of diversity and inclusiveness. We are committed to ensuring we are contemporary and sustainable over the longer term. We are committed to pursuing our purpose of preparing Newington students to live successful and fulfilled lives.

We know the world is moving fast. We know that the future of work, learning, mental health, relationships, and humanity itself, are all up for grabs. We owe it to all Newingtonians to be restless and committed to set them up for the 2050s, not the 1990s. What works in 2022 will not necessarily work in future decades.

The fundamental questions we are asking are:

  • In the future what is the best way to entrench, contemporise and enhance our traditions of diversity and inclusiveness, particularly in light of the changing demographics of our traditional catchment areas?
  • In the future what is the best way to optimise empowering students to develop great hearts, inspired minds and strong wings, ready to make a positive contribution to society and the future?
  • In the future, what is the right size and structure of the school, in the context both of the growth in Sydney, but also the impact that technology is having upon education?
  • If any changes are recommended and determined by Council, what is the best way to stage those changes, balancing the interests of past, present and future students, parents, teachers, Old Boys and the Newington community generally?

Has the College Council already made up its mind? Is this is a formality?

Absolutely not.

No decisions have been made as we want to engage with the community on these topics because they are so important to the future of the College.

The College Council is the custodian of Newington College’s values, ethos and future. Inclusivity is a hallmark of the Newington DNA and the College Council felt very strongly that the Newington community should be included in the deliberation about what kind of school Newington should be in the decades to come.

Why is now the time for this deliberation?

The College Council has for many years been observing and considering the changing demographics of the Inner West, emerging trends in society and schools and the role of education in preparing students for an uncertain future. In the last year, these issues were the focus of preliminary research commissioned by College Council that stimulated further consideration.

The College Council felt it had a responsibility to be open and timely in communicating these considerations with the Newington community. In early February, the Council re-confirmed that community input was an essential next step and the announcement of that decision was made soon after.

If the College is in really good shape, why is the College Council thinking about significant change at all?

The College is in good shape now. But Newington is at its best when it is restless, and we should never be a laggard in any aspect of education by resting on our laurels. Our ‘Hearts, Minds, Wings’ strategy is already delivering improved academic and pastoral outcomes and we are determined to see it be even more effective.

The College Council wants to ensure that in the long-term Newington continues to:

  • Defend its long-valued diversity and inclusion;
  • Remain sustainable and adapt to changing drivers of future enrolment demand;
  • Attract the highest quality teaching and learning staff; and
  • Prioritise the best interests of students past, present and future.

The College Council wanted to evaluate available quantitative and qualitative data and research to ensure that its deliberations were objective and conducted using the most recent information related to the four key areas of focus. The College Council has also commissioned its own qualitative and quantitative research.

And again, to be clear – the College Council has empowered the Headmaster and his team to research and engage our community at this stage. No decisions have been made.

Wasn’t the purpose of the Endowment Fund to protect diversity at the College?

The Endowment Fund was re-launched in 2018 with the aspiration of annually providing 100 outstanding boys of promise from families with proven socio-economic need the opportunity to attend Newington College, by 2040. We are working towards and on track to achieve that goal, but the reality is it will take time to fulfil that aim

It is an important lever in our ongoing determination to be a diverse and thriving school, but it is only one, and focuses on socio-economic background. The College’s traditions of diversity span much more broadly than that, as has been well articulated already in a number of the round table discussion sessions.

How will this impact the boys now and into the future?

Newington College’s commitments to its current students make a rapid change untenable. The three issues – maintaining our diversity, the optimal size and structure of the school, and potentially becoming co-ed – are each complex and interlinked. Some scenario planning has started and many potential scenarios will be modelled before any final determinations are made.

How compelling does the case for change need to be?

We do not believe there is a scorecard that will determine what decisions are made. Rather, the concurrent streams of work being completed by the Headmaster, his team, and the feedback of the Newington community will all be evaluated by the College Council.

When will a decision be made?

By June we expect to have distilled information gathered from a range of sources for College Council to consider and potentially modelling further if required. Further communication will be shared with the community at this time.

Why are we finding out about these considerations now?

As far as possible, Council wanted everyone to get the same information at the same time. Discussions were kept to Council level until the Chairman’s recent announcement to maintain the integrity of that approach. Had an alternative approach been taken, the risk of some parts of the community being advised, and others left in the dark, would have been counterproductive and unfair to our breadth of stakeholders.

If changes are made, is the Council walking away from the traditions of the College?

Firstly, no decisions have been made.

Secondly, our foundational values of diversity, a balanced education, academic focus, life readiness and social service remain front and centre in any future deliberations.

If Council determines that changes are in the College’s best interests, we would be very cognisant of history, school spirit and traditions. We would hope that many traditions will remain for a long-time to come so that any student – irrespective of gender – could participate in fully. There may also be new traditions created – as there are every year – that will maintain Newington’s vibrant and diverse culture and inherent spirit.

What will the College Council do if this engagement shows the community wants us to stay as we are?

We have to look at the entirety of the research, including the experiences of other schools and the education landscape more generally. The Headmaster will visit schools that decided to go co-ed, and some that didn’t. He will look at bigger schools to determine if they thrive or if there are other issues that need to be considered.

We do need to stress that Newington isn’t just for now. It is also for the decades to come. So there are dual prisms to view the research through – one based in 2022 view and another based in the decades beyond.

Why are there limited places in the community round tables?

Over four weeks, 40 sessions will be held with various stakeholders with the assistance of Kantar Australia. This will involve over 400 members of the Newington community: current and future parents, alumni, staff, students and members of College Council.

This is considered by qualitative research measures to be a very large number and it will capture extensive insights. Expert advice confirms that we can have enormous confidence in the validity of this research methodology.

The insights drawn from these sessions will be extremely valuable, but we understand that more members of the community would like to have their input into these deliberations. The email has received over 100 submissions so far. All views and submissions are welcome and will all be provided to and considered by College Council.

If we decide to go co-ed, will girls come in across all years, or just senior years, or starting in kindy, or something else?

We haven’t made a decision to go co-ed and we believe our commitments to our current students make a very rapid change untenable.

Other schools have made the change and there are a number of models. We have looked at these and will continue to draw insights from lived experiences. We will examine these changes in greater detail, but only if the Council makes the decision for Newington to go co-ed. Given our current facilities and commitments to waiting lists, any transition process would more likely commence in the youngest years. Our ELC is already co-educational.

But no decision has been made. We are now engaging with our community in constructive discussion and research to extend what we know from the information that got us to this point of consultation.

How big could Newington get?

It’s something that has to be carefully considered because of the many implications it has for our academic and pastoral approaches, the advantages – and possible disadvantages – for students, our infrastructure and the culture of the College. We are determined to maintain a school community where each student is known and cared for. This was why the number of Houses in the senior school doubled. This philosophy would continue if the school got bigger in decades to come.

We want to ensure a level of diversity at the school.

We want to ensure we are sustainable for the next 160 years.

We want to preserve the sense of community that makes Newington unique.

We are also keen to keep the sense of space and scale around each of our campuses.

We have healthy waiting lists and commitments to as many current and future students as we do places for the next few years at least, which means that it is very unlikely that there would be a rapid change. If we do make a change, we would plan it properly and that will take time.

There will be approximately another 42,000 students in our catchment areas in the next 20 years, so there will be demand for great education.

Yes, we have done preliminary modelling. But the factors being considered by Council overlap each other – one will have impacts on others. So, at this stage we cannot give a definitive answer about how big the school will get – or if it will get bigger at all.

How will this impact the College’s main campus and any future building?

The long-term master planning for our Stanmore campus could be affected by any decisions, once we know what they are, so we believe it is prudent to be mindful of this in the short-term.

We are acutely aware of the changing needs of the College right now, and will continue with the aspects of the campus development plan that have already been decided – e.g. the new House areas, a new fitness and conditioning centre and the planning for a stand-alone Critical Thinking and Ethics Centre.

Will it mean more campuses and where would they be?

Our focus remains on our existing campuses.

We are investigating small satellite experiential campuses for Stage 5 (Year 9 and 10) as per our strategic plan.

Why would girls want to come to Newington?

We haven’t made a decision on going co-ed – we are still in the research phase.

Newington will, however, always be committed to being an education leader for all students providing a balanced, progressive education to prepare them for the future. If girls did attend Newington, that will be the reason – and only if we are confident that we can deliver on that vision and to the benefit for all students.

Boys and girls learn differently. How would Newington manage that if it went co-ed?

There are many, and often divergent, views about the best models for boys and girls learning. We will continue to investigate and consider global and Australian research throughout this exploration phase.

Newington has always been determined to offer the best possible education to all its students and this would underscore its approach if any changes were made (and that remains ‘if’ at this stage).

How will this impact our sister schools?

We have been as transparent with our sister schools as we have with our community and the Headmaster personally notified his counterparts that we were undertaking this next phase of research. We remain focussed on what is best for Newington and our students. Individual schools must always be able to take that approach.

What will happen to sport if we go co-ed?

Irrespective of any decisions, Newington College remains committed to the GPS, an association we are a founding member of. We have no reason to believe Newington will not remain a member of the GPS. Early feedback from our GPS peers has been supportive of the College Council pursuing this community discussion and research phase.

Sport has always been a special part of the Newington experience for students and families, and we would want all students to be involved in thriving, competitive competitions – as they are now.

Is this a reaction to public discussion about issues such as consent?

Conversations about consent and respectful relationships have been occurring at Newington for many years and across many forums.

In addition, the feedback from our MMG surveys over the past several years has also indicated that a conversation about co-education would be beneficial for Newington parents.

We are always looking at the environment we – and every other school – operate in to consider what we need to do to prepare students for the future in the best way we can, no matter the issue.

This is about what’s best for Newington and its students, past, present and future. We are mindful of societal changes and views and moving with the times. We are driven, however, by the Newington fundamentals described above that have given rise to this consultative process.

Would the College be open to transgender students?

The gender identity landscape is evolving, and we are cognisant that we should move with society.

Newington College will always have what is best for the individual student as its most fundamental concern. On that basis, any current student would continue to be a valued part of our school and community should they choose, and should this phase lead to a change in the makeup of the College, it would also be our guiding principle for any new student.

Was the idea of researching these areas from the Council or the Headmaster?

The four topic areas for research were determined by the College Council as these topics have been discussed by College Council for many years as it fulfils its role in thinking about the future of the College. It was the findings of the recent research commissioned by the Council that created a need to dig deeper into potential future scenarios.

The Headmaster has been asked – by the College Council – to lead the further investigation into these four areas. Given his accountability for all campuses and the delivery of the strategic plan, he is the person best positioned to jointly conduct the community engagement program with social insights experts Kantar.

This is an initiative of the College Council, not the Headmaster.

Will this unduly distract the Headmaster?

Newington has well-resourced and highly capable senior leadership, teaching and administration teams, more than capable of managing the now and preparing for the future. The Headmaster continues to be involved in the College of today, which includes teaching different classes most days.

We have a Headmaster who has the full confidence of the College Council to deliver on our immediate, mid-term and long-term objectives, like any accomplished Leader.