From the Head Master

This week I would like to address an area of potentially great danger in the School. I am thinking of the main carpark at Summer Hill, although some of the same issues may also be seen in the streets surrounding both the Summer Hill and the Strathfield campuses.

Carparks and the streets around schools are a risky and potentially dangerous site within a school, as they bring together children and moving vehicles in the same area. The design of our carpark, and the rules governing its use, are intended to minimise risk and to ensure that all people, particularly children, are safe. I have no doubt that all members of our community are committed, in principle, to the safety of children. However, this safety is compromised when the rules are disregarded.

To the best of my knowledge, the main problem does not lie with the senior students of the school who drive. The School recognises the potential risks associated with inexperienced drivers, and places stricter parameters around the boys’ use of the car park. Driving to school is a privilege that can be withdrawn. Through senior staff, the behaviour of the boys who are driving in the car park is monitored and, while there are occasional exceptions, the boys do the right thing.

Our problems arise from parents and other adults who drive students to and from the school. Failure to comply with the protocols, ignoring the rules and flagrant rudeness are regularly seen. Examples abound: picking up students in the wrong zones; using the boot for bags; jumping queues; disregarding the instruction to turn left at the top of Jubilee Drive; waiting rather than going around for another lap; and the list goes on. 

A case could be made that no single one of these behaviours is catastrophic in and of itself. Any behaviour may stem from any number of motivations, from thoughtlessness through time pressure to arrogant disregard. I do not assume to know what the issue may be in any one instance. However, over time as habits form, so does a culture of disregard for the rules, and safety is potentially compromised.

Over my years in schools, various possible solutions have been considered by frustrated staff, parents and community members. Naming and shaming through posting photos and videos of offenders on social media, giving students detentions for their parents’ offences, banning offenders from the car park, using senior staff to police traffic, commissioning a parent group to police traffic, and various other possibilities have been suggested. Most were not practical, and likely to create more problems than were solved, but the sense of frustration amongst the parent group was palpable.

I would like to provide five lenses through which behaviours in the carpark and surrounding streets could be considered. I do so, knowing that 80% of drivers consider themselves to be of above average ability (which is statistically improbable), and that we are all far more adept at spotting the speck in someone else’s eye than seeing the log in our own.

The first lens is that of safety. No-one starts out the day hoping that they will have an accident that hurts someone else, but accidents do happen. Once you have been in an accident, particularly if someone gets hurt and most particularly if you are at fault, you will never forget it. Accidents can have life-shattering impacts, and none of us wants that on our conscience. The rules exist to maximise safety and minimise risk. Please adhere to them.

The second lens is that of modelling. The power of parent behaviour in shaping the behaviour of children is well-established. They will do what they see. This has direct implications for how they will behave when the time comes for them to drive. However, as was raised at the Parents and Friends meeting, the boys will also learn how to treat rules from seeing how you treat rules. Are rules something to be disregarded in the name of convenience? Do individual preferences or desires trump formalised codes of behaviour? At school, we work hard to teach boys to respect rules; we hope that our efforts and yours are aligned.

The third lens is that of relationships. An enduring human challenge is learning to live well together with others. The actions of one person have impacts on others. We want our boys to be considerate of others, to put others first, and to love those around them by acting for their good. Too much of the world around us is self-centred; we want to call our boys to a higher goal. Does your conduct in the carpark show how our relationships with others – even those whom we may not know – can be done well?

The fourth lens is that of character formation. As I have said to the boys on a number of occasions, character is revealed in the great moments, but it is shaped in the small ones. Great acts of noble and sacrificial heroism are made possible by myriad small acts of selflessness and graciousness. If we want our boys to become good men, in whatever spheres and worlds they inhabit in the years to come, it begins with small habitual behaviours in the insignificant areas of daily life, like school car parks.

The fifth lens is that failing to follow the traffic management plan damages the School’s reputation with local residents and jeopardises our hopes for the future development and improvement of the School. The School currently has a State Significant Development Application before the Department of Planning Industry and the Environment (DPIE). The key issues of concern that are being considered have to do with traffic management. Parents who do not follow the plan, which has been written to maximise safety, amenity and functionality, hurt the School.

Please make yourself familiar with our Traffic Management Plan (Summer Hill Campus) and the Preparatory School Traffic Management Plan (Strathfield Campus) and adhere to it. Your school community would appreciate your support in helping our carpark and traffic arrangements to work well.

(If this article seems familiar, there is a reason. It is substantially based on one I wrote in 2019. It described the issues and my thinking then, and it still does!)

Detur Gloria Soli Deo.

Tim Bowden | Head Master


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