When did you know you wanted to be in education?

When I was about five, my dad hung a blackboard up on our back verandah. Every afternoon after school I would line my dolls and teddies, as well as our scotch collie dog up in front of the blackboard and teach some of the lessons I had learnt that day. I guess I was always going to be a teacher from that point.

Was leadership a natural progression for you?

Yes it was. I have always immersed myself in the total school experience so volunteered for everything I could at the various schools where I was. I built my CV with different experiences, further study and just learnt as much as I could from everyone around me.

It’s clear attempts to close the achievement gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students are still falling short. Thoughts?

NAPLAN results indicate that there have been some gains in the achievement of Indigenous students in numeracy and literacy, particularly in Year 3 and Year 5 reading and Years 5 and 9 numeracy. But the gap in writing for Year 9 Indigenous students, even in major cities, is still very wide. For Year 9 students in remote and very remote areas, the achievement gap in writing could more accurately be described as a chasm.

Evidence emerging from the House of Representatives Standing Committee Inquiry into Educational Opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students reveals the issue of non-attendance at school is a huge challenge, exacerbated by the mobility of many Indigenous students in very remote areas.

As a member of the board of Yalari, I’ve seen first-hand how scholarship programs make a real difference in the lives of students. There are wider gains, too.

Scholarship programs are well worth the public and private funding they attract, and there is a strong case for more government funding to allow more students to participate.

I am hopeful the Inquiry will identify the programs and initiatives that are proving successful ... and identify strategies for their replication.

Obviously federal funding is a hot topic at present, do you have any thoughts on this?

Heads of independent schools have generally welcomed the new federal funding proposals. The commitment to a minimum 3.0 per cent annual indexation of general recurrent grants from 2021 has also been welcomed. It provides a bottom line for budget forecasting for schools and that predictability is appreciated.

Politicians and policy-preneurs tend to use terms like ‘evidence based’ and ‘what works’ as if they were the silver bullets of school reform. But the validity of research on ‘what works’ and definitions of what constitutes ‘evidence’ in relation to interventions designed to lift student achievement are highly contested issues. Evidence of ‘what works’ may only be evidence of ‘what once worked’ for a specific set of students in a unique school context at a specific point in time.

At a time when schools are doing a great job of managing their own rapid evolution, the last thing we need is for governments to be mandating classroom practice.

What advice would you give to young female educators keen to progress into leadership roles?

One of my career highlights was to be given the chance through a Churchill Fellowship to investigate strategies for preparing female leaders for the role of principal.

One thing I found which affects women achieving top leadership positions in many industry sectors is what is termed ‘off-ramping’, that is, taking time out from a career to raise children or care for other family members. A remedy for that is for women to be very conscious about the way they plan for their future and to make those career plans early so they have the opportunity to make some heavy duty professional progress and ‘front load’ career gains before taking time out. I recommend planning with ambition. This entails being careful about which study program you choose, which courses and conferences you attend and which committees you participate in.

I also advise aspiring leaders to get a mentor who will help in the career planning process and challenge you on any limiting beliefs you may have about money, power and ambition.

You made a major submission in 2016 to a Senate inquiry into the harm to children caused by access to online pornography. What has been implemented to address this?

AHISA was very disappointed with the final report of the Senate inquiry, tabled in December, which found no evidence that children were harmed by access to online pornography. We immediately wrote to the inquiry chair and to relevant federal ministers pointing out that the extensive body of national and international research presented to the inquiry was, at the very least, evidence of risk of harm. We were immensely encouraged to see this view adopted by the Government in its response to the inquiry report.

The Government has now tasked the Online Safety Consultative Working Group, chaired by the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, to expand its scope of work to advise on policy responses to address the harmful impact of pornography on children. We see that as a positive step.

In May this year the eSafety Commissioner released some useful resources to help parents talk to their children who may have been exposed to pornographic images online. We see the role of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner (OeSC) in developing resources for schools and families in this area (and in cyber safety) as very important.

What else is concerning you?

AHISA members are very concerned by the increasing prevalence of mental health issues among students. I was very interested to see in a comparison of results from recent Principal Health and Wellbeing surveys conducted in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, that mental health issues of students are among the top reported sources of stress for principals.

The PISA 2015 wellbeing report also identified that Australian students, especially girls, express levels of anxiety well above the OECD average.

I think digital technologies have delivered unforeseen challenges to young people in terms of their social identity, body image and sense of belonging. Schools and families have been caught on the back foot but we are rapidly catching up. There is already a lot of great work happening around wellbeing, for example in the areas of positive education, emotional intelligence and mindfulness.


Pop quiz

As a leader, I would like to be remembered for... encouraging more women leaders to aspire to the principal’s role.

A non-education sector related person I admire, is... Jim Collins. I have found his books inspirational.

Away from my work, to wind down, I like to... read mystery novels on the beach.

I can arrange a concert based on my own music tastes, I’d include... The Rolling Stones, Elton John and Michael Bublé.

If I won the lottery, the first thing I would do would be... book a family holiday to travel the world.

My most treasured possession is my... aunt’s engagement ring.