The first thing I did when I became a secondary school principal many years ago was to put the school’s prefects in blazers and ties. The school was losing enrolments and needed to improve its profile; prefects were put in the vanguard of our efforts to win back a critical mass of aspirant families. The second thing was to invite Sydney University educationalist David Smith to speak to the staff. Even then, David was ahead of his time, delivering a telling critique of what he saw as outdated industrial-era schooling and a strong case for more personalised learning.
The first was a cosmetic change we needed to stay viable. Pursuing desirable students, and the benefits they bring, is common enough among schools in a competitive environment. The second was more challenging and risky; it meant reshaping the school and who it served, and could be far more significant if it worked.