“We want our girls to be good women of honesty and integrity” – Interview with Mrs Polly Flanagan, the Principal of Shelford Girls’ Grammar School

By Wensu Xia


Shelford Girls' Grammar School
Shelford Girls’ Grammar School


When I ask Polly about the things that she finds most rewarding about her job she tells me about the little things like when the younger girls come running up to hug her in the playground. “The kids are very happy and it’s just a very joyous place to be.”

– Mrs Polly Flanagan


Shelford Girls' Grammar School

Shelford Girls’ Grammar is an independent, Anglican day school for girls, located at Caulfield in Melbourne’s south-east. Established in 1898, the school currently caters for approximately 600 students from pre-school to year 12.

I visited the school on a rare, sunny winter’s day and met with Principal Polly Flanagan. As I toured the school grounds with Polly, it became apparent that there is a real sense of community at Shelford.

Shelford Girls' Grammar School
Shelford Girls’ Grammar School

Having taught for over 30 years in a variety of roles at 10 different schools, Polly acknowledges that being the principal of a small girls’ school is a wonderful opportunity and tells me the thing she likes most about Shelford is that it is a small school, “I know every girl here by name. You don’t ever hear teachers raise their voice here, we don’t have significant discipline problems, we don’t have girls that are rude or rude to their teachers, or answer back, they just don’t. It’s not because we’re a tough school, it’s part of the culture, it’s not what you do.”

“It’s very difficult for a girl to slip under the radar at this school, someone will notice if she doesn’t look happy or she doesn’t look well, someone notices and we get onto it, we have a very good support structure in this school.”

“We don’t have a lot of school rules, the number one value is respect and I can’t think of anything that isn’t encompassed by that. Integrity, we want our girls to be good women of the future, we want them to be well-rounded people, not just focused on themselves, we want them to be women of honesty and integrity, that’s important. Passion, we want girls to have a fire for something, it might be art, it might be cross country running, we don’t mind, we want them to be passionate about something. We also want them to be creative because we think that creativity is one of the most important things we’ll need this century.”

“I read the other day that it’s a peculiarly western notion that creativity is tied up just with music and art. In fact in eastern traditions they see creativity in mathematics and in science as well. You have to be creative to solve problems; Albert Einstein said that you will never solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem. Our students are encouraged to think outside the square. In this world that is saturated with multimedia and social media, girls have to respect themselves. There are so many forces pushing at them saying be like this, look like this, behave like this, that we want to make sure that they can stand strong and know who they are.”

“There are all sorts of things going on in society over which we have very little control.” Polly emphasises the wellbeing of children in this day and age and the need for structure. “We try to encourage parents to bring computers out of the children’s rooms and into the living space so they can see what’s happening. There are lots of opportunities with social media for older kids to be withdrawn and it’s really important that we educate the girls to see technology as a tool, not a crutch. We have to make the students wise users of technology and there’s a lot of research now to show that there are no benefits coming from schools that use technology all the time. We are very careful here about the way that we use it.”

Shelford Girls' Grammar School
Shelford Girls’ Grammar School

“We had a house performing arts festival recently and that was just the most amazing display of the girls initiative, creativity and ability to solve problems because they’re doing it all themselves. The Year Seven to Twelve all worked together and the teachers had nothing to do with it, it’s a brilliant example of role modelling. This is not the kind of school where you don’t get a lead role until you’re in Year Twelve. The girls love this, it’s one of the highlights of their time here.”

“Despite Shelford not being a selective school, it has always been high achieving. For the last fifteen years 100 per cent of our students at Shelford have had a first round tertiary offer. Which means 100 per cent of students get a place at university without having to wait for second or third round offers. Polly explains that this is because of career education which the school implements from year 9 onwards. ”

“We take great pride in our academic results, but we’re much more than just that. It’s the students who score in the top ten per cent in Australia, who get ATARs over ninety that make league tables and get their photo in the paper, but as rewarding is the child who comes into the school with a D or E grade and goes out as a B.”

In 2014, Shelford became one of the top-10 VCE performers. It rocketed from 15th place in 2013 up to third, with a median score up from 36 last year to a 12-year high of 38. According to VCE School Rankings 2015 at bettereducation.com.au, Shelford ranked 8th following two elite government schools and 5 private schools. Last year businessinsider.com.au ranked Shelford as No 2 out of the best private girls schools in Melbourne.

This article is also available in: Chinese traditional

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