A quiet spot in the middle of the Australian bush might not seem like the obvious location for a high-performing academic institution, but pupils at Braemar College thrive in their natural surroundings. The school – a private co-educational independent day school in the Macedon Ranges, an hour north of Melbourne – caters for pupils from Year 5 to Year 12, who take their lessons in an ornate 120-year-old wooden building, which once served as a spa and then an independent girls’ boarding school. “It’s one of the attractions of the site,” says Russell Deer, the school’s Principal, “to be surrounded by hundred-year-old oaks and elms that were planted when the original house was built.
The site became Braemar College in 1976, following the original school’s amalgamation with Geelong Grammar. It has thrived since, and its student population has grown to close to 900 over the past four decades. The college prides itself on recognising and celebrating the fact that every student has unique educational requirements. The learning environment is nurturing and supportive, with a high value placed on relationships between students and staff. “The ethos of the college is to have young people who graduate as well-rounded, independent thinkers who are confident and understand their place in the world,” says Deer.
IMPROVING AND EXPANDING
The school’s growing popularity has prompted it to build an ultra-modern AU$20 million campus, Woodend, which is nearing completion. The new 320-acre site, close to the existing college buildings, will house a new Middle School and greatly expand the college’s academic, arts and sporting facilities. Learning pods will offer flexible spaces that can be re-arranged as required, allowing pupils to work on their own, in pairs or in small groups, depending on their needs or assignments.
“The new space will provide staff with an ability to add an additional dimension to their teaching, where they can plan to use the space in a way that matches the desired outcome of the lesson,” says Deer. “The new campus will have fantastic acoustics as it uses materials that are sound-absorbent, so that the space really can be used in a variety of ways.”
Pupils at Braemar benefit from a personalised teaching programme, which reflects the college’s commitment to providing helpful and continuous feedback on every pupil’s individual progress. The teachers use a learning-management system that displays the pupils’ lessons and feedback, which parents can see by logging in to the system at any time. Sharing this information with parents allows pupils to have conversations at home about their education and ways that they can improve and move forward, and helps to keep them organised.
“It’s not only beneficial to parents who might want to keep track of their children’s progress,” says Deer, “but for pupils too – if they want to recap something they learnt in class, they can look at it for reference,” says Deer.
The school prides itself on its extracurricular activities, from music and drama to a wide choice of team and individual sports all year round, from football and athletics to badminton, mountain biking and orienteering. The school is close enough to the Victoria ski areas to offer snow sports
too. The equestrian team’s riders shine in state and national competitions, and the whole team takes great pride in looking after, training and working with the horses, which encourages responsibility and attention to detail. Similarly, the school’s Cadet Corps can lead to professional training with Australia’s army or navy, while allowing participants to develop their problem-solving and leadership skills.
Braemar’s music and drama departments are highly regarded, with professional-level drama coaching, individual tuition in 25 instruments and musical ensembles including choirs, orchestras and jazz bands. At the Performing Arts Centre there are regular concerts and fully staged drama productions created entirely by the students, from acting and directing to set building, lighting design and stage management.
Although Braemar is tucked away in the hills, it is only 45 miles from Melbourne and is anything but isolated. Pupils are taken on cultural and educational excursions and there are many opportunities to take part in the college’s exchange programmes.
“We offer French and Indonesian as language subjects and young people undertake ad-hoc exchanges to both of those countries to support their learning of the languages,” says Deer. The college also hosts exchange students, whose presence opens up the world to Braemar’s pupils. “Our local shire has a sister-city relationship with a prefecture in Japan,” says Deer. “We have an exchange programme between the prefecture and our school every year.”
Braemar has always kept up with the latest technological innovations to benefit its pupils, and introduced iPads into the classes a number of years ago. “These devices have impacted learning in a very measurable way,” says Deer. “Our students, staff and parents are very comfortable with interacting in an electronic area and our learning-management system is testament to this.”
Students learn IT skills and undertake a variety of electronic and cyber-safety awareness courses so that they are better prepared for the modern world once they graduate. “We want the young people of our college to have the skills to be flexible in a workforce that is rapidly moving towards automation and artificial intelligence,” says Deer. But working with iPads doesn’t mean that handwriting and reading has fallen by the wayside. All students undertake annual handwritten exams and there is mandatory quiet time for reading, but students are free to read whatever they want and can progress at their own pace.
All of Braemar’s resources are channelled towards making its students as well prepared as possible for their adult lives, confident of their abilities and instilled with a sense of community. “We teach our students to value a growth mindset,” says Deer, “and to exhibit gratefulness and mindfulness and to be aware of those around them.”