A Community United
Interview with David Gates – Headmaster of Scots All Saints Bathurst
David Gates spent much of 2018 combining two of Bathurst’s most highly respected co-educational independent schools into what has become essentially, a much larger, stronger, independent day and boarding school to service Bathurst, the Central West and beyond.
Despite the enormity of the task, David has emerged upbeat and enthusiastic. Given the schools proximity to Sydney, and Bathurst’s increasingly attractive rural lifestyle, there is every reason to believe that Scots All Saints and Bathurst will continue to grow as important educational centres.
I imagine the whole process has been quite a challenge. What have been some of the biggest challenges for you?
There are all sorts of challenges. Both schools have a very rich history and culture, and the two school communities, the old boys and girls and the current parents and staff, emotionally align very strongly with that. So, that is both a wonderful strength, but it also comes with some challenges. We’re trying to keep the best of both.
What will that mean for the boarders?
All the boarders are going to be on the Scots campus, because we have the facilities to be able to cater for them. We’ve done a great deal of consultation and put to them that perhaps we would have boarding on both sites. The boarders made it quite clear they wanted to be all together.
You’ve been an educator for some 37 years. What are the most important aspects of a good education and how do you seek to provide them?
Well number one is the focus on the child and the care for the child. So, if your children are happy, if they’re connected to their community, if issues are resolved quickly, then they can learn; student welfare is vital.
A school needs to be academically excellent, with quality teaching and learning, and good discipline, so that time isn’t wasted in the classroom. We’re very fortunate to have very few disciplinary issues.
A rich variety of opportunities is also important in addition to the academic programs, so that students can experience success, they can be challenged, they can grow, and they can develop resilience and teamwork. Through sport, music, cadets, the Duke of Edinburgh, agricultural cattle team and show programs. There’s an incredibly rich diversity of opportunities available in both schools, and in joining together that has only increased.
We know that children in Years five to eight, both physically, emotionally and intellectually progress at different rates. Some students are well and truly ready for Year 7 and can cope with 10 or 12 different teachers; however, some students need a lot more care before they’re ready for that.
This year we have introduced a Middle School(Years 5 to 8). This means that Year 7 and 8 can retain some of the aspects of the primary school with a teacher who’s spent time with them every day — a core teacher — while still experiencing the opportunity of the variety of expert teacher specialists in their fields. We’re very excited about the Middle School.
I understand you are bringing in an English intensive program this year.
We currently have about 35 international students, primarily from China, Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong. They can arrive here essentially any time from Year 5 through to Year 10. But mostly they come in Year’s 9 or 10.
What we’re trying to do by having a school-based ELICOS Program (English Intensive Course for Overseas Students) is to take students in from Years 7 to 10, straight into an intensive English program that is separate from the main academic program of the school — 6 to 12 months of intensive English to really improve their skills. While they’re doing that, we provide opportunities for them to integrate with the rest of the school, through sport, music, in the boarding house, in the dining room. Once they finish that course and their English proficiency is good, they’ll have the opportunity to pathway to other schools within Australia. We are hopeful that a good percentage of them will then pathway into our main school at the year level commensurate with their age and ability.
How challenging is the integration process for them?
If they come in with pretty good English already, they integrate very well. The younger they arrive, they better they usually integrate. If they start, for instance in Year 7 when a lot of other students come from other places, they do well.
The challenge is when they come in and their English proficiency isn’t strong. The ELICOS Program means that they’re coming in and spending intensive time on English rather than other subjects as well. So their English skills develop at a much faster rate. Then they’ll be in a position where we believe that their academic results will be a lot better and it will be much more of a positive experience for them as they transfer into the main school.
Can you tell me about some of the other programs the school provides?
We have a rich diversity of programs, and I think most students can find something they can really get into. Whether it’s music, a whole range of sports, agricultural programs, pipes and drums, highland dancing, debating, public speaking or drama. There’s a great deal. We also offer a Leadership Development Program, a Peer Support Program, the Army Cadets, and the Duke of Edinburgh Program.
It’s not uncommon for a Year 12 student at an exit interview to make a comment like, “Well if you can’t find something that you really enjoy and you’re good at, then you’re not trying.”