School Within a School (SWAS)

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Sydney Boys High School is divided into two, self-contained schools. The junior school comprises Years 7 to 9. It has a separate sports afternoon, separate assemblies, different attendance monitoring arrangements, a different uniform and three Year Advisers in Years 7 through to Year 9. Our High Junior School has five major priorities:

Our first priority is to develop each student as a whole person. Through all the curriculum and activities of the school and through values education classes, our literacy plan and a structured outdoor education program, we aim to nurture engaged, resilient and self-confident students with a strong sense of self-efficacy - a feeling they are capable of achieving. We want to help students to try new things to help define their self image and individual identities, to develop self-awareness. We promote healthy risk taking in a controlled environment.

Our next priority is to promote a sense of belonging, of personal identity with the school and its purposes. We strongly encourage participation in the co-curricular life of the school. We want our students to be engaged in school life, physically fit and happy. We believe that participation in team sports is a vital component of personal development. We require boys to try out for two GPS sports teams each year. Boys learn a lot about life through participation in team sports. Many boys join debating groups, music ensembles, chess teams or school service committees to expand their experiences and networks of friends. Participation helps students to make friends.

We have a priority to support our students. We provide a network of people to help and nurture them. Year Advisers, a Student Support Officer, committees of staff, parents, old boys and supporters of High, work tirelessly to provide for the needs of team members for Saturday sport and participants in co-curricular activities.

Another priority is fostering academic success. This is a stronger focus of the senior school in Years 10 to 12. We aim to support each student to gain entry into the university course of his choice. Historically, 99% of students attend university after gaining their HSC at High. That is the academic goal that even Year 7 students should have in mind. They are not just here to learn but to excel in their learning and to take personal responsibility for it. Fortunately, in the junior school there is more opportunity to experiment with learning. There are more choices possible as boys grow into independent learners. There is more time to follow up on personal interest areas. Our academic competitions programme, Da Vinci Decathlon, Philosothon and Tournament of Minds offers opportunities for boys to test themselves in a wider context than the school.

Finally, we have a priority to develop future leaders. We provide leadership opportunities and recognition of achievement, participation or service to the school and the community. Our Student Representative Council and Student Awards Scheme foster and reward involvement and leadership in a wide variety of activities. Leadership potential can be expressed in many contexts and while participating in a variety of group activities.

Our Junior High School will evolve as a unique, focussed environment promoting personal growth.

 School Within A School Organisation Chart


Michael Carr-Gregg is influential as a theorist in boys’ education. He asserts that high school is about healthy risk taking. Daring to try something new builds self-image. Learning how to become self-aware is important in our personal development. Developing a sense of belonging can be the defining experience of high school for some students. Students ask themselves basic questions. Whom will I make friends with? Will I like my teachers? Can I handle the work? Students need to take some initiative for leading their own learning. We want them to become autonomous, independent learners. Taking responsibility for one’s learning helps to motivate further learning.

In a large school there is always the problem of anonymity, of missing out, being unrecognised or unacknowledged. With a population of 1182, High is quite a big school. We need to get closer to our boys in the junior school. They need to be in contact with more people, more often to assure their well being. The High Junior School concept is based upon the notion that institutions need smallish units to operate effectively and efficiently. Our school has grown large in size, due to its context within the GPS and its need to provide a broad traditional curriculum. I am concerned that there could be a loss of close connection between the staff and the boys.

Also, I am convinced that a vertical House structure, linked to House-targeted competitions would be likely to improve connection with the school, participation in co-curricular activities and engagement by the boys. I believe that we can build a good junior school with a team of Year Advisers focussing on wellbeing, engagement and growth with Heads of House in sport, focussing on sporting and co-curricular activities. Our Parent Mentors can be asked to assist with building a sense of belonging among our students.

How does the High Junior School work?

  • There are separate assemblies for the two schools and different administrative, uniform and welfare arrangements. These are designed to give the students a sense of belonging to a group.
  • There are leadership opportunities at several levels in Years 7-9. Role descriptions are published to attract boys to leadership activities.
  • Curriculum and program modifications have assisted the compaction of 4 years into 3 for many students.
  • High Junior School students will have environmental awareness, energy conservation and school service as areas of interest to be promoted by Year Advisers, along with sports, debating, music and the other co-curricular activities.
  • The two schools are self-contained in their sports administration: Wednesdays for Years 10-12, Thursdays for Years 7-9.
  • High Junior School has as its primary focus the discourse of personal development and nurture literacy for personal growth.


Educational Philosophies for SWAS

Discourse is an institutionalised way of thinking, a social boundary defining what can be said about a specific topic. To develop a culture, particularly an educational one, a common discourse needs to be used.

In our High Senior School, the predominant discourse centres upon academic achievement. Such discourse comprises the totality of speech, acts and written communications supporting, encouraging and facilitating a student’s ability to obtain high academic outcomes. The assumptions of this discourse are that:

  • academic content and skills are the most important things to be learned
  • academic curriculum should be rigorous and centrally directed for uniformity
  • learning is future oriented and comparative in nature
  • scientifically based research supports the validity of outcomes based learning
  • learning occurs in a top down environment with imposed programs, procedures and policies.

As our years 10-12 are dominated by our students’ desires to do well at the external HSC examinations, such a discourse is appropriate. Nevertheless, a heavy emphasis on the discourse of academic achievement has negative consequences. Academic achievement discourse:

  • transfers control over curriculum from educators to central organisations that set standards
  • neglects areas of the curriculum that are part of a well rounded education needed to experience success and fulfilment in life
  •  eschews positive instructional interventions that cannot be validated by research
  • encourages teaching to the test
  • fails to account for individual differences in cultural backgrounds, learning styles and rates
  • undercuts the intrinsic value of learning for its own sake
  • produces harmful levels of stress in teachers and students
  • leads to increased use by young people of illegal substances as performance aids

At High we do not become obsessed by the discourse of academic achievement and hence many of these negative consequences do not apply to our culture, but there are cautionary implications. We stress participation in sports, music, debating, chess, leadership activities, charity drives and service programs. We teach the need to maintain a nutritious diet, a healthy life style and a balance between work and play.

For all that, we are trying to send all our students to university and we do not control the rules of the game, the Board of Studies, DEC and the universities do. We just have to learn to play it hard and well. We are building a strong learning culture in our High Senior School.

In our High Junior School it is more appropriate that the dominant discourse should centre on personal development. The discourse of personal development includes the totality of speech, acts and written communications supporting encouraging and facilitating a student’s growth as a whole human being, including his cognitive, emotional, social, creative and spiritual unfoldment. The assumptions of personal development discourse are that:

  • to develop as a whole human being is the primary purpose of learning
  • evaluating whole human being growth is a meaningful, ongoing and qualitative process
  • a curriculum that is flexible, individualised and that offers meaningful choice is appropriate the past, present and future of every student are important
  • it is ipsative in nature as it compares a person’s present performance to prior performance
  • it bases its claims for validity on the historical richness of human experience
  • it is part of a professional effort by educators who are inspired by individual creative thinkers
  • the bottom line of education is happiness.

In a selective school we have to have an appropriate focus in the High Junior School on metalearning and achieving high academic results. However, to construct a discourse of personal development has positive consequences. Personal development discourse:

  • engages students in learning activities and coursework that will better prepare them to function in the real world
  • gives educators and students more control over their learning environment
  • encourages innovation and diversity in learning programs
  • promotes the establishment of developmentally appropriate practices
  • enables all students to shine in their areas of strength
  • helps students to become more of who they really are
  • enables students to develop socially useful competencies and qualities
  • lessens the need to classify students as learning disabled, ADHD or underachieving
  • results in fewer discipline problems and ameliorates social problems

In our High Junior School we will aim to engage every student through personal development discourse. We have adapted and modified our programs to meet the needs of gifted learners and the learning styles and rates of acquisition of individuals. We aim to complete the major concepts of stages 4 and 5 by the end of Year 9, effectively compacting four years into three. We offer choice and self-reporting opportunities to incoming Year 7 students through languages preferences and talent recognition in music or sport. In Year 8 language choices operate again and in Year 9 two elective choices are made. Our efforts for Years 7-9 are on building self awareness and social engagement. For the first year of the High Senior School we offer a three elective pathway with more time allocated and a focus on academic development.

Adapted from Armstrong, T. (2006) The Best Schools: how human development research should inform educational practice ASCD Alexandria, VA. pp 158-159

Dr Kim Jaggar OAM
Sydney Boys High School