Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College


(April, 1999, for Andrew Lemon, researching for his 'A Great Australian School : Wesley College Examined' - published 2004)

Name:  Martyn Smith.  Preferred title:  Mr

Year and term you began teaching at Wesley:  1972; 2 (July).

Please indicate years or terms since then when you have NOT been at Glen Waverley, such as time at Prahran, Elsternwick, Chum Creek or on long-service leave.
(i) July, 1972 - December, 1976, at Prahran; 
(ii) January-May, 1991, long service leave; 
(iii) January-May, 1997, long service leave.

What are your academic qualifications?  BA, Dip Ed.

At which schools did you teach before joining the Wesley staff?
Knox, Preston and Ferntree Gully Technical Schools.

Did you have any previous association with Wesley (as student, parent, family?)  Was your own schooling at government or private school?
Yes, Wesley College student 1956-63.

Who, would you say, appointed you to the Wesley staff?  David Prest.

What subjects were you appointed to teach?  English, Economics, Geography.

Which other subjects have you taught since?
History, 20th Century Studies, Social Studies, Divinity, Religious Education, Religious Education and Ethics, Year 9 City Curriculum, Integrated Learning.

What level classes have you taught at Wesley?  Years 4-11.
Which do you prefer?  Years 6/7.

Sports coaching:  How extensively have you been involved? 
(i) Australian Football coach, 1973-76; 
(ii) Cricket coach, 1977; 
(iii) T-i-C Australian Football Junior Clinic, 1978-c1985; 
(iv) Softball coach (including T-i-C for 4/5 years), c1985-1996.
Do you have any particular successes or achievements to note? 
(i) Founder and developer of Junior Football Council of Victoria 'Footy Clinic' (now 'Auskick') at Wesley. 
(ii) Developer of broad, competitive program for Softball at Wesley (first such program for girls' sport).
How important is sport to the life and ethos of Wesley College today? 
Sport is crucially important at the school today because it enables 
(i) widespread, varied, purposeful, healthy and sociable physical, mental, ethical, moral and emotional exercise, and 
(ii) students and teachers to come to know each other better outside the conventional classroom.
Has there been any change in this since you started here?
I think that sport has become more and more an end in itself rather than a means to enhance the learning achieved by students through their extra-curricular interaction with teachers, thus negatively altering the balance of (i) and (ii) immediately above.

Extra-curricular activities at Wesley: drama, music, clubs and societies, outdoor activities, excursions etc.  What have been your main involvements? 
Very little other than to be a wholehearted supporter and advocate, particularly when in a position of power and influence, of their worth.
Have there been any major changes?
There has been an enormous heightening, deepening and broadening of the work in Visual Arts, Performing Arts and Education in the Outdoors during the last 27 years. 
In 1972 there was one Art Room, one Craft Room and one Music Room at each of the Senior School (Prahran) and Junior School (Syndal) campuses.  One camp (Chum Creek) was visited by Years 9 and 10 students only (although possibly Years 7/8, too -- check with Bruce Gregory.  I think the Junior School was 'big' on Central Australian tours from about 1972.) and the experience was called simply 'camp'.  'Outdoor Education' and 'Education in the Outdoors' were concepts still to come, under the aegis of, firstly, Bryan Kenneally and, more recently, Hayne Meredith.

Your view of Wesley as it was when you joined the staff.
The school was at the end of an era during which it 
(i) was rooted in the Adamson decades (there were, on the 1972 staff, at least five teachers with direct connections to his Headship (see 'A History of the School, written in 1977' on my website); 
(ii) was constituted by the Methodist Church; 
(iii) was a member of a mono-gendered Associated Public Schools of Victoria;
(iv) enrolled between 600 and 800 male students, 90-100 of whom were boarders. 
[NB This is an error ... it omits the Syndal enrolment of approximately 432.]
(NB, 'A History of the School, written in 1977' on my website briefly describes the 1972 school and lists some radical developments in the five years following 1972.)

Your view of Wesley as it is today.
Wesley is at a crucial point. 
It is working out how it can be one 'college' but three 'schools' in a rapidly diversifying general education milieu, local, national and global.
The 'one college-three schools' notion is a tough but not surprising (for a school of the Wesleyan Methodist tradition) dilemma which, I think, will continue to cause doubt and confusion for some time. 
However, the concurrent diversification of primary/secondary education, which intrinsically is about the greater 'mobility' of students, teachers and information resulting from networked digital technology, may be a fortuitous context in which to work out Wesley's contemporary identity.

Your opinion of co-education and the way it works at Wesley.
See 'Co-education' section on my website.
Wesley is 'working' co-education quite well but cannot relax in its continuing implementation of the decision to become a co-educational school.  Wesley still is implementing co-education. 
Co-education will not be consolidated until the following two criteria are operating at the school simultaneously:
(i) the gender ratio is within one or two percentage points of 1:1, and 
(ii) old girls are sending their daughters to Wesley at the same rate as old boys are sending their sons. 
Wesley must 
(i) continue to hold firm to the 1:2 gender ratio rule of enrolment, tightening it to 2:3 if it has the courage to do so; 
(ii) constantly be vigilant in perceptively and actively providing equal opportunity for both girls and boys; 
(iii) continue to proclaim strongly that Wesley is a school for girls.

Is it possible to characterise typical Wesley students, or to distinguish them from students at other schools?
I'm not sure if this is possible. 
My guess is that the typical Wesley student 
(i) expects to be treated with discrimination as a unique, worthy individual, and 
(ii) understands, and can cope with, the inconsistencies that inevitably occur when this personal expectation is also a more which applies equally to every other student in the school, particularly in an 'open entry' school.

How much communication is there between parents and teaching staff? 
I think there is a lot. 
Is this too much or too little? 
There can never be too much of such communication.
Has this changed in the time you have been here?
I suspect that it has changed. 
In nearly every official newsletter-type communication for twenty years, David Prest repeated words like this: "If parents have concerns regarding their student's education, they should raise them with the school. It is better if problems are aired and shared." 'Airing' and 'sharing' became almost a catchcry, in my experience.
This, with gradually increasing demands for accountability, led, I think, to far closer relationships between students, teachers and parents.

Do you think parents get value for money with their children's education at Wesley? 
The right and willingness of the parents to consult closely regarding their student's education underpin this. 
The parents pay the fee for their student's education directly -- it is an 'over the counter' transaction -- which means they can look the provider in the eye and expect value.  (This is particularly true at Wesley where the customer pays for the service in advance!)  The transaction does not get lost in bureaucracy.
Also, Wesley has a longstanding philosophy of care for students (see 'History and Philosophy' section on my website) which attracts teachers who are willing to spend far more than the obligatory time and effort on their students and weeds out those who aren't. 

Is there any significant difference between students who have attended Wesley from Prep or Junior School and those who come to the school in Senior School or later?
My very subjective opinion is that there is a significant difference.
I suspect my judgement is unmeasurable but I think there is an intangible 'leaven' that comes from students who have been at the school since a very young age.  To mix the metaphor, somehow they are the 'backbone' of the school.  A similar statement used to be made about the existence of boarders in the school.
Additionally, whilst pre-Year 7 starters have a kind of Wesley ingraining that has the effect described above, many Year 7 starters bring a lot of prior personal, independent (of Wesley) success from their altruistic senior Primary School days (eg, School Captain, House Captain, sports leadership, Tournament of Minds success) which they are bursting to build on at Wesley and which is made increasingly manifest as their secondary schooling at Wesley unfolds. 

What importance, if any, do you attach to Wesley's history and tradition? 
I give this a great deal of importance. 
See 'History and Philosophy' section on my website, also the 'Open Entry Enrolment' section. 
However, history and tradition are significant only to the extent that they intrinsically enhance the education of the current students and of those to come. 

Have you ever read any of the previous three histories of Wesley College? 
Yes, all of them, and 'Adamson of Wesley' by Felix Meyer.
How much were you affected by the fire in 1989?  Very little.

Are there particular members of staff - past or present - who you would nominate as having been important or influential in your Wesley career or whom you have particularly admired?
Val Brown, Tony Conabere, Alan Dodd, Simon Hills, David Kings, Pat Lake, Geoff Lormer, Alan Mitchell, Lindsay Newnham, David Prest, Judy Ridgway, Laurel Strohfeldt and Bruce Warrell stand out. 
This would be my 'A' team but I have left out some pretty big 'legends' (eg, Jack Rush, Louis Lesser, Laurie Humphries snr, Josh Martindale).  Crikey, how can I? 
Additionally, I reckon we've all been pretty good during all these years!!  I must say that all my colleagues throughout the time that I have been at Wesley have been important members of a team of which I have been glad to be a member.

Does Wesley (considering all its campuses) continue to be One School or do you consider it more as several separate schools?  See above.

How important is the role of the Principal in Wesley College? 
Crucial, absolutely. 
The Principal must 
(i) execute the policy of the Council, 
(ii) lead the Council, 
(iii) lead the teachers, students and parents, and
(iv) represent the College publicly
all at the same time. 

How important is the School Council? 
It appoints the Principal and has the viability of the school entrusted to it by the school's owner.
Who, or what, runs Wesley College?  The Principal.

What was the impact of Glen McArthur at Wesley, particularly in your area of work? 
Despite the 'current wisdom' I hear about Glen McArthur, those looking back in fifty years may decide that many of the things he did and tried to do 'stuck' and were influential in the decades following his time at Wesley.  For example, forcing the issue on NBCs, the IB, the importance of the Elsternwick Campus, the continuing review of co-education.
It is my belief that Glen was badly advised about misconceived fundamental priorities of the school. 
I believe that Glen elevated the commercial function of the school to equality with the educational function.  This was a serious error.
There were other failings but, more significantly, I believe Wesley never allowed Glen McArthur to exert his best influence on the school.

What are your reflections about David Prest as Principal?
Healthily impulsive, plainly honest and openly fun-loving, David Prest was an astute judge of 
(i) sincerity, 
(ii) the ability of teachers to excite students about education, and 
(iii) risk-taking with people and ideas. 
He was genuinely interested in, even fascinated by, the professional and personal characteristics of people.  He appreciated their idiosyncrasies.  This made his staff, in particular, feel valued.
He 'earned his stripes' during threatening transitional years, and was the pivotal leader of all progress made by the school between 1972 and 1991. 
I believe he continues to be a focal point of reference for its ongoing progress.
Fortunately, his ability to stand back and let keen, motivated and energetic people get on with the job means that he never will be, and never was, accused of meddling.

Wesley is described as a Co-educational Uniting Church School.  How important is the connection between the Uniting Church and the School?
Crucial, also absolutely. 
See the 'History and Philosophy' (particularly 'The Values, Philosophy and Ideology of Wesley College') and 'Open Entry Enrolment' sections on my website.
The UCA is the owner of the private, independent educational enterprise called 'Wesley College Melbourne'. (Andrew, I believe this to be empirically true and the argument regarding 'constitution' v 'incorporation' relates to it.  If this is of interest to you, consult Peter Webster and/or Keith Ditterich and/or Doug Oldfield.  Needless to say, I am a 'constitutionalist'.)
This ownership forces the College to account for itself beyond its
(i) clientele,
(ii) past students, and
(iii) benefactors.
This is a good thing.
The 'connection' (a well-chosen word, considering our Wesleyan roots) defines the purpose for the existence of the school.

How well does Wesley handle discipline and rules (for instance concerning clothing, behaviour)?
I think we could be a little less liberal in our administration of the outward signs of 'good discipline', eg, personal presentation, adherence to routines, courtesy.  Our students know what is appropriate.  Sometimes we let them down by not expecting them to live up to standards that they believe and know are reasonable and desirable.  I'm quite pleased with the students' power of inner discipline, eg, care, compassion, fulfilment of potential, honesty.  I always have found the students to be well-disciplined in these values, particularly when 'the chips are down'.  I say this based upon extensive experience as Boarding Housemaster, Lay Chaplain, Head of Junior School and Head of the City Curriculum -- all positions which have required me to work deeply with students in the realms of trust, honesty and acknowledgment of the rights of others.  I am a strong optimist with regard to the calibre of our young people.
Is student behaviour ever a serious concern? 
I think that the behaviour of the students is always a serious concern.  We are in the business of educating student behaviour.
Has there been any noticeable change during your time at Wesley?
In student behaviour?  My impression is that there has not been a noticeable change other than that induced by co-education.

What do you think about Wesley's public image? 
I'm not sure what Wesley's public image is.  Has this been researched lately?  I know what I want it to be. 
In any case, whilst we continue to refill approx. 3500 places each year, it's OK.
Do you like Wesley's advertising?   Yes.

How do you think Wesley's pay and conditions compare with other schools? 
I don't know.
Does this matter?  Yes.

Is it possible to define why Wesley is different from other schools?
Yes. See 'The Importance of All' in 'Open Entry Enrolment' on my website.  This characteristic should define all schools from the Wesleyan Methodist tradition.

Can you think of anything that would really annoy you if it was not mentioned in the proposed new history? 
(i) The highly significant, positive role of Tony Conabere in the progress of Wesley College.  I see David Prest as the farmer and Tony Conabere as his ploughman in the breaking of Wesley's new ground (much of it rock-hard) between 1972 and 1991. 
(ii) A comprehensive account of the reasons for the implementation of co-education at Wesley.

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