The parents of an exclusive Perth private school are not happy that the school has not renewed the principal’s tenure. Now, some of the heavies of the Perth establishment have weighed into the argument.

In June 2001 the Guildford Grammar School council, then chaired by Mr Philip Gardiner (old boy of the school, ex parent, ex Macquarie Bank director and current grazier) announced that it would not be extending the contract of the current headmaster, Mr Kim Walton, beyond December 2002.

Mr Walton joined Guildford in January 1997 on a 5 year contract, which was extended to December of this year to permit the search for a new head to occur. The rationale given by the council at the time was that a major contributor to this decision was a survey, which was sent to selected members of the school community, and analysed independently, indicated that the school should seek a new head.

It was stated at the time by the chairman that a total of 6 parents had responded to the survey!

[CRIKEY: While that is no basis on which to form a representative survey sample, even more ludicrous is the fact that, as reported in the West Australian, the 2000 survey was only sent to 24 parents! The West reported that the parents did not know at the time why they were being sent the surveys, which included questions on various matters, including the performance of the principal. So, on the basis of, apparently, some negative comments from some of these six parents who bothered to respond, the school decided not to renew the incumbent’s contract.]

Parents were advised in a couple of further letters in 2001 on the progress of the appointment.

Many in the school community were surprised and concerned at this announced change of leadership, as they had been satisfied with their children’s education at the school. The school had been taken through a major change management program by Mr Walton and his team, and appeared to be heading in the right direction on all major performance criteria: academics, sports, finances, enrolments, staff structure and qualifications, sustainability, image, etc.

Over the past year, there has been major concern expressed by many stakeholders in the school on what was happening with the head’s appointment, why indeed it had been necessary to change the head (at significant cost and turmoil to the school), and what direction the council was setting for the education of children.

The school, from staff, parents, Old Guildfordians and current and past council members, seems to be split on where it is heading, if anywhere.

Parents were advised by letter received 5 April 2002 by the chairman of council for 2002, Mr Mark Fitzpatrick, that the Visitor to the School, the Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Perth, Dr Peter Carnley, was reviewing the process for deciding whether to renew the headmaster’s contract. Until the review was completed the selection process was going to be put on hold.

The following day, an article in the West Australian gave further details of the issue, including that the review had been ordered the previous January (some view that parents should have been informed of the review prior to the paper obviously picking up a leak, rather than in a last minute damage control exercise).

In late April, parents were informed by letter from the Council that the review had been concluded, it was to be a secret report, and that the processes followed “…were not inadequate or improper…”.

The process to select a new head had restarted.

I was disturbed to read an article in the West Australian recently alleging that a former chairman of Guildford, David Malcolm, had written to school principals and council heads around Australia, stating that he found the handling of the issue “…seriously flawed, unfair and not in the best interests of the school”.

The letter is quoted as saying “While we respect the position that the (Archbishop’s) decision is final, with all due respect, we remain fully supportive of the present head and acknowledge his achievements ..”.

As well as being an old boy of the school, a WA Rhodes Scholar, a lawyer and former council chairman, David Malcolm is also the Chief Justice of Western Australia and Lieutenant Governor of the State since 1990.

The newspaper article implies that former chairmen of the school supported the letter, and among others, viewed Mr Walton as having “…been treated unfairly and unjustly”. At the time Justice Malcolm was appointed to the position of Lieutenant Governor, another old Guildfordian and past Chairman of Council, Sir Francis Burt, held the position of Governor of Western Australia. I don’t know, but am very interested to know, whether Sir Francis’ name was also on the letter discussed in the “West” recently.

There is obviously great concern by a broad range of people, including very senior members of the community, about what is happening at one of Australia’s oldest and greatest schools. Many questions are circulating, and a few need to be openly asked with answers demanded.

It is astounding that both the most senior representative of the Anglican Church in Australia and a highly respected leading member of the WA establishment are involved in this issue.

There must be more at stake than the simple replacement of a headmaster?

CRIKEY: As one of the newspaper reports that our concerned parent sent through to us points out, school principals these days are required to have the full complement of skills of a corporate CEO. The comparable schools in WA have 1,000 plus students, turnover between $11.5 million and $19 million and a couple of hundred employees each.

These are not small bikkies, which makes the school’s decision to not renew the principal’s contract on the basis of some negative remarks contained in a mere 6 surveys absolutely farcical.

The fact that a concerned parents group has been whipped up in no time to speak in support of the principal suggests that there is much more at play than just a survey of parents.

And the letter sent to parents in late April by the chairman of the school council was completely inadequate and could only serve to ruffle aggrieved parents further.

In it, the chairman says “the report is confidential and has only been presented to council, and to Mr Walton. The Visitor has indicated that he does not intend to release it further.”

We don’t need to remind readers of our “disclose, disclose, disclose” mantra, so of course we are appalled that parents who are probably shelling out around $10,000 a year or more to educate their children get this totally inadequate disclosure.

The fact that the report has been shown to the principal and he apparently hasn’t kicked up a stink to have it released can only lead us to speculate that it contains comments that he would not want to be made known publicly.

If our concerned parent is in tune with sentiment of the majority of parents and they are correct in asserting that the school has performed well under all indicators under the incumbent, then there must be something else at play here.

Peter Fray

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