Where is the school? Candlebark is located in the foothills of the Macedon Ranges, half an hour north of Melbourne airport, between Romsey and Woodend, not far from Hanging Rock. A second school, Alice Miller School, will open in 2016 in Macedon.
How big is the school? We started with 53 at the beginning of 2006 and have 174 in 2015. We are limited by planning regulations to 196, but we are in no hurry to build up to that figure.
What grades do you cover? In 2016 Candlebark will enrol Preps (children who turn five early in the year) to Year 7. Alice Miller School will enrol Years 7 to 11, and Year 12 from 2017.
What is the philosophy of the school? That’s very hard to answer! We try not to shout at the children! We encourage students to be adventurous without being stupid. “Take care, take risks” could be seen as the school motto. We are keen on the highest possible academic standards, good manners, and a friendly, comfortable, affectionate atmosphere. We see learning as an energised affair, where students engage with the world in ways that are active, stimulating and motivating.
In what ways is your school different to others? There is no school uniform, and everyone is on a first name basis. Classes are small, and in 2016 will range from 12 to 17. We are out and about much more than most other schools. We have lots of sleepovers, camps, excursions and activities. We are quite a musical school – everyone has a period of music every week. As well, there is one period a week where everyone plays chess. There is plenty of free time — for example, every Wednesday afternoon, from lunchtime onwards. The students bring no food to school, as everything is supplied. The meals include a wonderful range of choices, but as well, students can raid the kitchen for a snack as they go past to their next class. At the end of each day the students and teachers clean the whole school, as we believe that people should be responsible for cleaning up after themselves in life, in both a literal and an abstract sense.
Our teachers are quite extraordinary, chosen for their unusual skills and interesting backgrounds. One of our music teachers has had works commissioned by Opera Australia and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. One was in the New Zealand Navy, another has taught in Thailand and Fiji, another is a marathon swimmer. One makes animated creatures – such as dinosaurs – for museums and galleries. Their hobbies include taxidermy, making-musical-instruments, yoga, cycling, theatre, and renewable energy. The Principal has written 40+ fiction and non-fiction books, including Letters from the Inside, and Tomorrow, When the War Began.
We don’t often seem to need to punish students, as generally everyone gets along very well, but more importantly, we see punishment as being counter-productive. We all have a vested interest in making this a positive and successful community.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between us and other schools however is that we have what may be the largest school campus in the world. Candlebark spans over 1100 acres, most of which is natural bush, remnant vegetation, and home to many different species of flora and fauna. There are more than 50 km of tracks and trails, and the property is home to kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, wombats, possums, Powerful Owls, wedge tailed eagles and other remarkable creatures. We also have quite a few farm animals.
How many teachers are there? The Principal, John, and teachers Wendy, the other Wendy, Shaun, Joanne, Sam, the other Sam, Jess, Taran, Donna, Ian, Steve, Kate, Andy, Andrew, Cameron, Heather (violin), Tom (guitar), Georgia (singing), Jamie (double bass and drums), Caitlin (flute), Daniel (piano). As well, there’s Kris and Cathy to give extra help to students, the Business Manager, Michelle, the Property Manager, Bob, assisted by yet another John and yet another Wendy, who also drive the buses. Finally, there’s the Kitchen Manager, Fiona, kitchen hand Sharon, and Martin, who tends to the grounds and gardens.
Do you have composite classes? In 2016 we will have composite 2/3 and 5/6, as well as “straight” grades 2, 3, 5 and 6.
How much does it cost? In 2015, $11.710 a year. These fees include all camps, excursions, food, text books, stationery, activities and bus travel to and from school for most students, as required. In other words, the fees cover everything except optional individual music lessons and fencing (also optional). Parents receive no other invoices from us.
Do you have a selection policy? Not really. We have said no to a few people whom we feel are not right for us, not for academic or behavioural reasons, but because they or their parents don’t seem geared to this kind of education. Generally however when we say no to someone it’s because we don’t have any spaces. We do give absolute priority to siblings of children already here.
How do you get in? We are determined to keep Candlebark a small school. We have waiting lists throughout the school, but some lists are longer than others. It’s always worth getting in touch with us though, for an update. Offers for Prep places are generally made about 15-18 months before the child is due to commence school, so applications should be submitted well in advance. For example, offers of places in Prep 2018 will be made around September 2016. We also offer an orientation program one afternoon a week throughout the year for students enrolled in the following year’s Prep class. This is free of charge, once a place has been accepted.