Official Stuff


“As the mother of the most reluctant cyclist I’ve ever encountered I farewelled my daughter last Monday with the deepest dread. A phone call from her on Tuesday evening seemed to confirm my fears that this was not going to be one of her high points in life although it was a huge bonus to hear she hadn’t actually come off her bike in any dramatic or violent way.

“The contrast in her attitude when she called me two evenings later was one of those defining moments of parenthood. I’d pulled off the road, in the dark, to take the call, and for ten minutes I heard my daughter more elated, more proud of herself and more excited than I have ever heard her…

“I’d like to say a huge thank-you to all the wonderful teachers and parents who patiently nurtured my daughter along the way, encouraged her, kept up her morale and got her to this point where she now realises she can do what she truly believed she couldn’t and that the rewards more than make up for the slog and angst.

“This has marked a really important turning point in my daughter’s life and a physical high point I never thought she’d reach…” 

This “unsolicited testimonial” came from a parent reacting to a bike camp that we ran in 2012 for all students from grade 4 upwards – with a few ring-ins from grade 3. After quite a number of training rides, the kids covered 279 km in five days, prompting another parent to write to me

I am sure I have already mentioned that when I saw the 279km Bike Ride proposed in the email I did think that Candlebark had lost their collective mind. And I certainly didn’t feel that it was something our daughter could do. Not sure what she thought, she seems right up for a challenge and certainly didn’t seem perturbed. But until those training rides commenced I was still a little doubtful – not that I knew what I was worried about, but nice for it to come to nothing. It was really quite a fabulous experience for our family… and great to have a glowing and proud returnee in the form of our daughter. She seemed to have gotten as much as possible out of the experience….”

I made a stirring speech to the Candlebark students the other day, and was happy that most of them seemed to stay awake for most of the time. I said that basically it is our job to make them uncomfortable. Having a nice safe comfortable school, or making sure that kids have fun at school, are not matters with which we are particularly concerned. Only by pushing students into new territory, which sometimes involves putting them through uncomfortable experiences, can we ensure that they will be enabled to explore new concepts, to confront new ideas, to gain new understandings.

The bike camp was just one of many ways in which we sought to have our students cross new frontiers into potentially uncomfortable territory in 2012. Others included a trip to France by the Year nines, a camp at Freycinet peninsula in Tasmania which our grade five and six students shared with kids from the Cottage School in Hobart, a four-day camp in tents at Beechworth for all the primaries, and the introduction of the Canadian-inspired Learning in Depth program for the entire school.

This last one, launched after staff attended a forum with Professor Kieren Egan, requires students to become experts in topics which we allocate them, and which they research for however long they are at Candlebark. It is designed to counter the bias in schools towards superficial learning across a wide range of subjects. Learning in Depth also incorporates multimedia presentations by students to audiences of parents, teachers and students – we saw the first of these at the end of 2012, and the best of them were absolutely outstanding. (Needless to say, the worst of them were abysmal, but as Keith Johnstone says “If you haven’t done it before, why do you think you should be good at it?”)

The trip to France was a good example of young people being taken to uncomfortable places… metaphorically speaking (the actual accommodation was pretty nice!) But kids who expected the six weeks to be some kind of teenage-dream-holiday (i.e. sleeping, sitting around, watching movies, texting friends back home, sleeping some more, playing on iPads, sleeping again…) had  a rude shock when they found their accompanying teachers had other agendas… agendas which were about exploring other cultures, successful communal living, self-reliance, self-discipline, and interactions with new ideas and lifestyles.

Some of them never got it, but that’s OK. Some of them did get it. Upon her return, one of the students wrote to me (again an unsolicited testimonial!) to say:

“On Tuesday the 18th of September we left on an adventure; another thing which I don’t think I’ll ever go a day without talking about. The past six weeks have been beautiful, weird, funny, French, inspiring and maturing. There have been moments where I have felt like crying, out of homesickness, shock, and awe. There have been dinners where no one could help but laugh until we felt sick. There have been terrible puns, and heart-breakingly beautiful paintings. There have been epic ping pong battles, and soft, buttery croissants. An exhausting hike up to a glacier and the exhilaration of reaching it. Enormous markets selling to-die-for crepes and macaroons. We’ve met incredibly generous people, who were willing to make an omelet for a bunch of teenagers who spoke a completely foreign language. I want to thank you Shaun and Sianon for taking on the giant responsibility of guiding us through this trip, and for making it so, so wonderful… Thank you for giving us this opportunity. Thank you for the best school in the world.”

In many ways I felt 2012 was a bit of a triumph really. If we were going to start softening on our initial commitment to first-hand experiences for our students, if we were going to show signs of staleness, 2012, our seventh year, might well be when it started to happen. Verily, verily did CS Lewis write “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without hills, without milestones, without challenge.”

But I don’t think we went anywhere near that insidious comfortable path towards hell, thanks to the creativity, daring and initiative of our teaching staff: Taran Carter, Wendy Powell, Sam Ford, Sianon Daley, Donna Prince, Basil Eliades, Joanne Croke, Michelle Ferris, Charles Robinson, Kris Rielly, Brent Tonkin, Shaun Dennis, Lizanne Richards, Iain Murray, and Tom Allen. We were very sad to say goodbye to Charles, Lizanne and Tom at the end of the year, and Michelle Ferris during the year, but Charles was looking for a full-time placement, Tom and his wife wanted to return to England, and Michelle and Lizanne left to have their first babies.

We were indeed fortunate that previous Candlebark teachers Wendy Wright and Sarita Ryan both indicated their desire to rejoin us in 2013.

Among other adventures in 2012, for some or all students, were a paddling camp along the Murray River, (for four days, passing through the largest River Red Gum forest in the world, and the fascinating Barmah Lakes wetland area), a trip to WOMAD in South Australia, an excursion to the Preston Mosque and to a Buddhist temple, workshops with a stand-up comedian (Josh Earls), a session with writer Isobelle Carmody, a hike to Mt Feathertop, a trip to the Ancient Rome exhibition, a night at “Top Acts” at the Palais Theatre, participation in the AgIdeas conference, a workshop with the Tasdance dance company, a visit to the Wallace and Gromit exhibition at Scienceworks, an excursion to the Melbourne Immigration Museum, a camp in the snow at Mt Stirling, participation in the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, a camp at Lake Eppalock, an entry in the RACV challenge at Maryborough, an outing to a show at the National Institute of Circus Arts, a visit to the Little Big Shots Film Festival, and attendance at a performance of Romeo and Juliet by the Bell Shakespeare Company.

For many kids, the highlight of the Beechworth trip was the visit to the Beechworth Lolly Shop, which they enjoyed, despite the attitude of some of the shop staff, who seemed to believe that children were the last people who should be allowed in lolly shops. However, more memorable for our staff was the torrential rain and flooding on the last night, which tested the spirits of even the most resilient. It was great to see how even our five-year-olds coped with floodwaters lapping at their mattresses in the middle of the night :-)

Back at school, one of the features of the year was a series of morning meetings where various parents spoke to the students about their lives and their jobs. These included a mother who runs a company which helps architects enhance their 2-D plans and drawings, a nutritionist, a teacher of creative dance, an advocate for disabled people, a police officer who trains other police officers in the use of firearms, a doula, a corporate consultant, an entrepreneur who helps start-up businesses, a specialist in corporate strategy and verbal communication, a manager of ABC’s Radio Australia, a vet, an ornithologist, a designer of websites, and a forensic investigator into aircraft crashes.

These wonderful presentations, representing such a diversity of personal interests and careers, helped give our students a better sense of the vastness of the world and the many opportunities available to them.

Among other visitors who talked to or ran workshops with our students in 2012 were TV producer Liz Re and her partner, “The Barefoot Investor”, Malaysian educators Redzuan Aziz and Engku Zakiah, Paula Kelly from the State Library of Victoria with Dutch literary expert Henk Kraima, Director of Dromkeen John Oldmeadow, a group from Land for Wildlife, a British archaeologist, a young African entrepreneur who sells coffee at Melbourne Airport so he can send money back to his impoverished village in Africa, Canadian Kyla Tremblay who ran workshops on taxidermy and making prosthetic body parts for horror movies, and Norwegian Synnove Ryum, who is a photographer and graduate in Theatre studies.

We also had a terrific concert and series of workshops from European quartet The String Contingent.

Another interesting exercise for us in 2012 was Topophilia Week. “Topophilia” is a name that I always believed was coined by Chinese-American academic Yi-Fu Tuan in his book of the same name (published by Prentice-Hall in 1974). But it was art teacher Joanne Croke who made me aware that British poet John Betjeman may have been the first person to use the word. It means literally “love of place”, but is defined by Yi-Fu Tuan as “the affective bond between people and place or setting”.

I’ll quote the opening to Chapter 2 from his book as an example of the way he understands the term:

“The Earth’s surface is highly varied. Even a casual acquaintance with its physical geography and its teeming lifeforms tells us as much. But the ways in which people perceive and evaluate that surface are far more varied. No two persons see the same reality. No two social groups make precisely the same evaluation of the environment. The scientific view itself is culture-bound – one possible perspective among many. As we proceed in this study, the bewildering wealth of viewpoints on both individual and group levels becomes increasingly evident; and we risk losing sight of the fact that however diverse our perceptions of environment, as members of the same species we are constrained to see things in a certain way. All human beings share common perceptions, a common world, by virtue of possessing similar organs. The uniqueness of the human perspective should be evident when we pause to ask how the human reality must differ from that of other animals. Contrary to appearances, a person cannot enter imaginatively into the life of his dog: canine sense organs diverge too far from our own for us to leap into the dog’s world of smells, sounds, and sights. But with goodwill one person can enter into the world of another despite differences in age, temperament, and culture…”

At Candlebark in 2012 we set out to get a richer and more imaginative understanding of our immediate environment by holding “Topophilia Week”, in which teachers offered various projects to students, including a study of habitats on the Candlebark campus (using, among other things, a motion sensor camera and hair tubes); a soundscape project aimed at listening to and “capturing” natural and artificial sounds on the property and in nearby towns; the use of local people, local histories, and the resources of the State Library to build up a collection of stories about the district and to relate those stories to the places where they actually occurred; a study of the relationship between this area and the indigenous people who have lived here for thousands of years; the construction of an innovative “family tree” using information from, among other places, the Lancefield Cemetery; a comprehensive study of birdlife on the Tye estate; and an art/mapping project designed to “capture” the property visually, in 2-D and 3-D.

The week was a stunning success, as vertically integrated groups took to these projects with enthusiasm and diligence, culminating in a memorable presentation of their findings on the last day.

Another adventure in 2012 was the introduction of fencing as an elective. Maestro Joseph D’Onofrio, who has been fencing for 65 years, told our parents at the end-of-term-two soirée that after just six months of learning fencing, the Candlebark students were about eight months ahead of where they should be. Fencing demands grace, athleticism, skill and absolute focus, making it an ideal Candlebark activity.

Chess continued to be highly successful. We brought in chess master and teacher Bill Jordan at regular intervals to work with the students, and after victories in a number of tournaments made the State finals once again. For a small school this is quite an achievement, and our results in the State finals were a tribute to the inspiration and work of Basil Eliades, who has guided chess with such a sure and dedicated touch for so many years now.

We also took part in a number of sporting fixtures, including orienteering, cross-country, and a variety of team sports. One of our most remarkable achievements was making the State finals in T-ball, where our kids played wonderfully, demonstrating great skills, but more importantly, terrific spirit and cooperation.

Sianon Daley continued the equestrian program which had started in 2011 under Jess Liston, and which has proved itself time and again as a highly effective way of helping selected students develop in empathy and awareness. Also in 2012, Kris Rielly coordinated a group of volunteer mothers and staff members for a neurological impress programme, working one-on-one with students who have reading difficulties.

The organic garden continued to flourish literally and metaphorically under the loving care of Brent Tonkin. It is such an important part of Candlebark life for so many students. The experience of working with earth, planting seeds and seedlings, watching them grow, nurturing them, and harvesting flowers, fruit and vegetables is irreplaceable.

The rich musical life of Candlebark continued in 2012, thanks to Taran Carter and visiting teachers Edwina Cordingley, John Payne, Lizanne Richards, Jorge Rodrigues, Caitlin Williams and Heather Cummins. More than half the students here choose to learn to play musical instruments, and our soirées this year were a delight. The Christmas concert featured an extraordinary range of performances, unveiled some new stars, and concluded with a mini musical which involved the whole school and ended the year in spectacular style.

To move on to more concrete matters: we started the year on a bright note, by finishing the alterations to the bunkhouse in January 2012. This meant that we had a huge new science lab and two beautiful classrooms, as well as an extended pantry, an extended laundry, and a vast shower-equipped disabled toilet…. That is to say, a toilet for disabled people: the toilet seems fully abled.

This meant that we have now finished lengthening and/or widening every building in the school over a period not much in excess of two years, not to mention the addition of a totally new building: the library/fire shelter.

In August 2012, our library won six Australian Timber Design Awards, for the Best Public or Commercial Building in Australia, the Best in the Southern Region of Australia, the Best Use of Engineered Timber Products, the Geoffrey Sanderson Perpetual Trophy, the People’s Choice Award, and finally, the Overall Winner as the best new timber building in the whole of Australia. The presentations, in Sydney, were a triumph for our architect Paul Haar, and builders Thoroughbred Constructions.

We also started the year with a dozen new computers, as a result of a Federal government initiative. Excitingly, early in the year we were successful in establishing a new Internet connection to the school. Surrounded as we are by hills, rocks and trees, our Internet connection was dependent upon a satellite which had limited bandwidth available to us. After many enquiries over many years we at last found a company from Geelong, DuxTel, who had a feasible idea for connecting us to Romsey via a series of aerials. Unfortunately, things did not go smoothly. It took months of work by DuxTel, and our property manager Bob Mitchell, before the installation of an aerial on the Midhill Winery in Romsey, another aerial on a farm near the school, and an aerial at the school itself led to the magic moment when we were able to watch film clips on you-Tube at normal speed, jump from website to website without long waits, and watch e-mails pouring into our inboxes like water over Victoria Falls.

The integrity of DuxTel, their commitment to honouring their original undertaking, and their stamina in seeing this difficult task through to its conclusion filled us with respect for them and the ethical way in which they do business.

We were also successful, after interminable (and all too often ridiculous) hearings at VCAT, in getting permission to increase the cap on our student numbers from 100 to 196. Our barrister, Matthew Townsend, and town planning consultant, Chris Banon, were instrumental in bringing about this important outcome, and once again their integrity and assiduity was inspirational.

Politically, running a school continues to be very difficult. It was made more difficult when, in late 2012, the State government suddenly announced the end of the conveyance allowance, the cessation of which would have meant an enormous financial burden for Candlebark. Surprisingly, but to our relief, Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon was open-minded enough to review and reverse the decision; or at least the part of it which would have so unfairly affected us.

The politicising of education at a Federal level has led, amongst other things, to the abysmal NAPLANS testing system.  It is difficult to estimate the damage NAPLANS, or more specifically the publication of NAPLANS results on the myschool website, has done to Australian education.  But these tests, often poorly compiled – there have been plenty of times when I haven’t been able to answer all the questions in the grade 3 and grade 5 comprehension papers – administered with sloppy security procedures –couriers frequently deliver the question papers late-afternoon, and dump them on the veranda outside the office, where they sit all night, and of course if kids are away from school they can sit the tests a few days later – administered to the wrong age groups and at the wrong time of year – how ludicrous to test Year 7 students, who, in most schools, have barely been at the school a term and a half – and marked, in the case of the writing tasks at least, by people who have apparently no appreciation of irony and little sense of style, can make or break schools, without regard to the infinite number of variables which can affect a school’s performance.

Let me give one example of how NAPLANS has changed Australian education.  For the first few years of these tests, students were asked to do a piece of creative writing.  Suddenly, with little warning and no apparent consultation, the task was changed to one of persuasive writing.  The reason?  If you read the fine print, you can work out the reason.  The change has been made to stop students cheating.  Apparently there was evidence of students learning pieces of creative writing by heart, going into the exam room, and writing out their learned pieces, presumably after making some tenuous connection in the first sentence between the given topic and the piece that had been learned.

In one fell swoop creative writing has been dramatically downgraded in Australian schools.  Instead of nine-year-olds writing about pirates and magic kingdoms and dinosaurs and enchanted forests they now write about the desirability of everybody having cooking lessons.  A few years ago the topic was “That was fantastic!”; that has now been replaced by “Too much money is spent on toys and games”.

Schools are so terrified by NAPLANS that they no longer allocate much time for students to do creative writing.  Persuasive writing is the new priority in Australian English curricula.

We make a point of advising parents of their legal right to withdraw children from NAPLANS testing, and I’m pleased to say that a number of parents exercise that right.

I’m required in this report to give “a description and analysis of student learning outcomes in statewide tests and examinations for the current year and for the last two years…”. The only test or examination to which this can refer, for us, is NAPLANS, but the meaning of the phrase “student learning outcomes” in this context eludes me. I can only assume it is bureaucrat-speak for “marks” or “grades”. A description or analysis of these is pretty much meaningless for us, not just because of the inadequacies of NAPLANS, but because our numbers do not allow any useful generalisations to be made. For example, in reading, 16% of our year seven students were in the sixth band or lower in 2012 (compared to 42% for Australia as a whole) but 16% of our year seven students equals… two kids.

10% of our year nine students tested in the sixth band or lower (compared to 25% for Australia as a whole) but 10% of our year nine students equals… one person.

The actual results can be found on the myschool website but there are only two remarks I can make about them which are of any significance. Firstly, the trajectory of students who have been at the school for two or more NAPLANS tests, has, where it can be measured, been very positive. Secondly, our spelling results are never as good as we would like, but we have always been aware that many of our younger students, whilst they have good phonic awareness, take a while to develop a comparable sight vocabulary. However most students have reached good spelling standards by the time they complete Year nine, and we are increasing the emphasis on spelling in the junior years.

The other great creation of the two laypeople who have taken charge of Australian education in recent years – Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett –is the national curriculum.  A couple of years ago John Hattie said to me that 90% of the things we talk about in education are of no importance.  For me, the national curriculum is in that 90%.  I’ve been teaching for 33 years now.  I’ve seen a lot of curricula come and go.  I’ve ignored all of them.  I look at the people who have been running around Australia so busily  for the last couple of years devising the national curriculum, and feel sorry that they have wasted so much time and energy.  There are only two subjects in primary school and lower secondary where a sequential curriculum is required, and they are maths and LOTE.  In English, humanities, science, music, art it doesn’t much matter where we roam, what we investigate, as long as we are exploring the world and the universe, as long as we are learning to understand ourselves and others and our relationships, as long as we are learning about life and death.  In the thirteen years they spend at school, so long as students are exposed to a wide range of teachers, ideas and experiences, they will be well educated.  If this was the case when I first started teaching, and I believe it was, then it is even more the case now, where there is no longer an argument for a set body of knowledge that needs to be acquired (except in maths and LOTE), because all information is available from Google.  In five to ten seconds I can find out anything, from how to treat a sick chook, how many moons are believed to be orbiting Jupiter, the meaning and origin of the word peripatetic, and the producers of Charlie Chaplin’s early movies.

Putting amateurs like Gillard and Garrett in charge of education is typical of the way education is regarded in Australia. We might as well put tow truck drivers in charge of neurology departments in hospitals, have dentists sit on the High Court, or have winemakers determine the engineering standards for freeways and bridges.

Anyway… this report is turning into a marathon. It’s over 4000 words, which is ridiculous. So, I’ll finish as I started, with an e-mail sent to me by a parent. I finished the 2011 Annual Report the same way: it’s great having someone else do so much of the work for me.

So, halfway through 2012, I received this e-mail from a parent describing a conversation she had had with her son. I’ll change the names, just in case anyone is still reading this document:

‘Hi John/Wendy,

For your collection! A conversation with Morris last week:

“Quentin and I are going to cut off John Marsden’s head…”


“So Quentin can be principal. We want to change the school rules…”


“We’re going to change the school rules to have school on weekends and in the holidays…”

 … Seriously though, some end of Term 2 prep feedback. Morris is absolutely loving Candlebark & the diverse regular timetable means he’s constantly engaged (although exhausted). His current favourites are chess, maths, English, activities day, clarinet in music group with Taran, French… Then there’s his animated descriptions about what he does in Brent’s garden clean up or in biodiversity & his detailed accounts about visiting cemetery, museum, ‘old fashioned houses’ & circus last week, His delight in choosing/doing different activities – from Sam’s campfire cooking, to Iain’s Lego, Shaun’s electronics, lantern making etc to Tom’s football etc.  Tonight he asked ‘how many more years until year 9?’ He was happy when he counted that he had had 9 +1=10 more years at Candlebark…

 So a big thank you to the whole Candlebark gang…’

And a big thank you from me too,

John (not yet decapitated) Marsden

Attendance is generally satisfactory, but in 2012 was affected by some long-term illness, seasonal illnesses (flu), and absences of some students on long family trips. When students are away for any reason, parents are expected to contact the school by phone, e-mail or any other method that is reasonably efficient. In the case of unexplained absences, we contact the parents by phone or text.

The school’s financial situation is strong, with debt well-controlled, and buildings and plant in excellent condition. A small trading surplus was recorded in 2012.


Statutory Annual Reports

It’s required of us, to maintain our registration as a school, that we “support and promote the principles and practice of Australian democracy, including a commitment to elected government, the rule of law, equal rights for all before the law, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and association, and the values of openness and tolerance.”

We do support and promote the principles and practice of Australian democracy, but note that glib and superficial statements are not helpful in developing the kind of sophisticated and complex thinking that we expect from our students. We would not see a list of slogans, like the one above, as particularly helpful or meaningful in encouraging understanding of the workings of Australian democracy.

For example, according to the Australian government’s own website: “Australia’s Head of State is the Queen of Australia, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Under the Australian Constitution, the executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercised by the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative.”

Her Majesty, our Head of State, is not of course part of an elected government, deriving her powers from her position as an hereditary monarch.

According to Wikipedia, the Governor General, as the Queen’s representatives, holds the following reserve powers:

  • The power to dissolve (or refuse to dissolve) the House of Representatives. (Section 5 of the Constitution)
  • The power to dissolve Parliament on the occasion of a deadlock. (Section 57)
  • The power to withhold assent to Bills. (Section 58)
  • The power to appoint (or dismiss) Ministers. (Section 64)

These powers are generally and routinely exercised on Ministerial advice, but the Governor-General retains the ability to act independently in certain circumstances, as governed by convention. It is generally held that the Governor-General may use their powers without ministerial advice in the following situations:

  • if an election results in a Parliament in which no party has a majority, the Governor-General may select the Prime Minister
  • if a Prime Minister loses the support of the House of Representatives, the Governor-General may appoint a new Prime Minister
  • if a Prime Minister advises a dissolution of the House of Representatives, the Governor-General may refuse that request, or request further reasons why it should be granted. It is worth noting that convention does not give the Governor-General the ability to dissolve either the House of Representatives or the Senate without advice.

The use of the reserve powers may arise in the following circumstances:

  • if a Prime Minister advises a dissolution of Parliament on the occasion of a deadlock between the Houses, the Governor-General may refuse that request
  • if the Governor-General is not satisfied with a legislative Bill presented to him, he or she may refuse Royal Assent
  • if a Prime Minister resigns after losing a vote of confidence, the Governor-General may select a new replacement contrary to the advice of the outgoing Prime Minister
  • if a Prime Minister is unable to obtain Supply and refuses to resign or advise a dissolution, the Governor-General may dismiss him or her and appoint a new Prime Minister.

In 1975, the Governor General, did famously and controversially dissolve the elected Senate and House of Representatives, relying upon section 57 of the Constitution, without reference to ministerial advice or to convention!

We note also many examples of departure from the rule of law in Australia, by the Australian government itself, and that these departures can seriously impact the concept of equal rights for all before the law – for example, the violation of international treaties to which Australia is a party concerning the rights and treatment of refugees.

Referring again to the list of principles to which schools must adhere, we note that although freedom of religion is more or less enshrined in the Australian Constitution (section 116), freedom of association is not. It is however specified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966). Australia is a signatory to the latter and Australians can complain to the United Nations Human Rights Committee if they believe their rights to freedom of association have been violated, and they have been unable to obtain redress from Australian courts.

Although many people would see the “values of openness and tolerance” specified in the list as desirable, within a liberal democracy people are free to hold beliefs which others might view as narrow-minded and intolerant. Many of the policies and practices of successive Australian governments – for example, the limiting of “marriage” to heterosexual couples, and the fencing of refugee camps with electric wire – are viewed by many Australians as narrow-minded and intolerant. The paradoxical nature of liberal western democracies like Australia is such that they are expected to be broadminded enough to tolerate and even accommodate ignorance and bigotry.

It is hoped that the preceding helps to give a sense of the depth of thinking that is encouraged and respected at Candlebark:  a way of looking at the world which we believe to be of greater value than essentially meaningless statements about extremely complex matters.



Schools are complex communities, where, unless a high degree of repression is implemented, feelings, thoughts, opinions and values are expressed with more intensity and passion on a regular basis than, I suspect, in any other environment except the family home. Schools daily face the particular circumstance that children with “negative” feelings towards their parents and siblings (and all children of course have these feelings from time to time – but some children have them to an unhealthy degree) will bring those feelings to school and project them onto the relatively safe targets of teachers and their fellow students. A kind of circle is completed when parents, should they hear of these episodes, but almost always unable to confront the truth of their own role in the child’s hostility, respond with horror, anger etc, directed to the child, the school, a teacher or teachers, other students – any or all of the above.

Schools are expected to handle the conversations which follow these events with not just maturity, objectivity and wisdom, but even with grace. We are not supposed to look the parent squarely in the eye and say “The root of these problems is in the dynamics of your family”.

Some parents, and God bless them, are able to face such truths unflinchingly. But they are in a small minority! Some teachers and school administrators are particularly good at handling uncomfortable conversations. It’s not one of my strengths, I have to admit. I remember a conversation with one father and his child, when I told the father to “stop jabbing your finger into your son’s face, stop treating him like you’re a lawyer and he’s a hostile witness, and try listening to him for a change.” I did have an ulterior motive on that occasion, I must admit: I wanted to show the son that his father could not bully and intimidate everyone the way he bullied and intimidated his son, but the father reacted (hardly surprisingly) by withdrawing his son from the school…


Anyway, the point I want to make is that schools are for many or most students the safest places they have in which to express feelings of hostility, anger or rage. This means that every day we are dealing with intense emotions: every day in every school the observant teacher will notice dramas, often melodramas, being enacted. I think Candlebark is a good school, and I think that was evident again in 2011. I would describe it as a “good-natured school”, where students display tolerance, generosity and open-mindedness every day, but they also of course display selfishness, greed, cruelty and bad temper. This means that one of the most important challenges for the adults working in any school, including Candlebark, is that of micromanagement. Every day, so many small, medium and large episodes must be dealt with, preferably positively and constructively… A Nerf gun missing from a locker, a trampled sandcastle, a child calling another child “a retard”, someone not pulling their weight in cleanup, a broken stool which no-one knows anything about… If for, say, three days we ignored these incidents, we would, I believe, have chaos.

When Archbishop Hollingworth airily dismissed criticisms of his performance as Archbishop of Brisbane by saying that he was “a big picture man; he left micromanagement to others”, he was saying, in my view, that he was unfit for his position. To fail to attend to the small, medium and large dramas that are being played out in every corner of every school every day – including Candlebark – is like driving a car without attending to the oil, the water or the air pressure in the tyres.

But these are just general comments; they do not relate to 2011 in particular. 2011 did seem to me a good year for Candlebark. But that’s because the adults who work at the school continue to attend to the “oil, water and tyre pressure”.

Unusually, we had the same adults in 2011 as we did in 2010. We made up for this with quite an exodus at the end of the year: a full-time teacher and a part-time teacher leaving to have babies, a full-time teacher accompanying her partner to Germany, a nearly-full-time teacher pursuing a unique opportunity in the USA, and a full-time teacher leaving the profession to spend some time reflecting, writing, changing the pace of his life…

So we said goodbye to Scott Hatcher, a trusted, well-liked and respected teacher of English who had been here four years, Jess Liston, a dynamic, positive, lively teacher of primary subjects who had been here two years, Melissa Wilson, a quietly dedicated and meticulous teacher of young children for three years, Zan Carroll, a good-humoured, multitalented, idealistic teacher of (mostly) Spanish for three years, and one of our foundation teachers, Claire Rosenhain, who taught dance with creativity and passion, and who changed the nature of Candlebark by doing so.

Photo: Hahn Tran

We also said goodbye to a Year nine group, whose leadership, idealism, maturity and intelligence were outstanding. As with previous Year nine groups, they scattered to the four winds at the end of the year, or, more specifically, to Sunbury Downs Secondary College, Fitzroy High School, Mowbray College, Kyneton Secondary College, and Gisborne Secondary College. Two went overseas for a full year’s exchange – one to Spain, and one to France.

Their year was, as has become customary for Year nine, a full one. As well as a trip to WOMAD in South Australia, and spending three days “doing” the Science Experience program at Latrobe University they went canoeing, hiking and camping, visited Broadmeadows court (under the kindly tutelage of the Chief Magistrate, Mr Kumar), and spent six weeks in Tanzania. The time in Tanzania was life changing for many. Supported by teacher Sam Ford and his wife Krista, teacher Zan Carroll, and ex-Candlebark teacher Sarita Ryan, they spent time in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, in the hinterland and a game park, and helping local communities.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, other students were also engaging in different adventures and excursions. In 2011 various kids participated in the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Little Big Shots film festival, and went to Canberra, Benalla Art Gallery, a farm which specialises in Waler horses, an alpaca and chestnut farm at Bright, the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne, a New Zealand theatre performance called Kia Ora Khalid, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Werribee Zoo, a James Morrison concert, a concert by the Resonance String Orchestra, an evening dance/music/theatre presentation by Victoria’s outstanding VCE students of 2010, a Spanish cabaret at a restaurant/nightclub in Melbourne, a performance by the Australian Opera, and the AG ideas conference. They went on canoe trips, bushwalks, camps, hikes and a bike camp. At school we were visited by young Australian Ballet student Asher Watters-Cowan from New South Wales, a Japanese member of Parliament, the students of Fitzroy Community School, ambulance officers (to run first aid courses), and Federal member of Parliament Mr Bob Mitchell.

We had a chess evening at school, where parents and children came in and learned more about this fascinating game from Basil Eliades. Students continued to participate in chess tournaments, with remarkable success, and qualified for the state titles. They also participated in many sporting competitions with other schools in the district, including a cross-country race at Hanging Rock and another one at Bendigo, and soccer, basketball, T-ball, cricket and netball matches.

Among the special events organised at the school was Candlebark University, a three-day program where students chose from a variety of courses, which included Dentistry, Music Composition, Breadmaking, Drawing, Medicine and Surgery, Kitchen Gardening, Crime Solving, Animal Husbandry, Healthy Living, and Fluff and Nonsense. All students graduated successfully, and were awarded appropriate degrees and diplomas at the end of the courses.

Photo: Hahn Tran

We also had an Autumn arts festival, a concert by our very own string ensemble, a couple of wonderful evening soirées, and a Festival of Ideas. This last-named, which also ran for three days, included the exploration of different topics, such as “Is there a time when lying is OK? Should we flush the toilet every time? Ideas worth spreading. Should school be compulsory for kids?” Values were discussed and considered. Mini workshops were offered, for example “Design a new sport for kids”, “Design an ideal house for kids,” “Analyse ideas on a scene from Avatar”, “Toy Story 3…..what is friendship?”, “Drawings of the future”, “Run a survival game where critical choices have to be made”. Many of these workshops were organised and led by our senior students.

June 29 saw the culmination of a great deal of work by our grade 4 students, assisted by Candlebark teacher Jess Liston and curators from Dromkeen. Dromkeen is at nearby Riddells Creek, and is famous for its collection of art from Australian children’s picture books, which is regularly displayed in a number of beautiful galleries. In 2010 we put a proposal to Dromkeen that our grade 4 students should curate an exhibition from their collection. We felt that such a venture, perhaps unprecedented for an Australian gallery, would be good for everyone – curators, who would get a different perspective on artwork; the public, who would see an exhibition with a fresh flavour; and our kids, who would learn a lot about art, galleries and exhibitions.

Kaye Keck, the Director of Dromkeen, enthusiastically embraced the proposal, and planning went ahead, but tragically, Kaye did not live to see the results. Nevertheless, the exercise fulfilled all our hopes, and a huge crowd turned up for the opening (which was catered by our Year 8 students). A lot of thought and planning had gone into the exhibition, and it seemed that visitors to Dromkeen, both at the opening and in the months that followed, were delighted by the students’ choices and comments.

In August we had the entire school undergo comprehensive eye testing on a scale which (as far as we know) has only been undertaken once before in Australia. We arranged this with Vision for Children, in Sunbury, who shared the cost of the program with us. We contributed to the cost because we believe that undetected vision problems are likely to impact on students’ learning, and Vision for Children contributed because they saw it as an opportunity to enhance the statistical data available on Victorian school students.

Vision for Children provided a written report and advice on the outcome of every examination, to parents and to the school.

It was well worthwhile, from our point of view. 13 students, or 17%, were recorded as having vision problems that had been previously identified. In five of those 13 students, it seemed likely that vision changes had occurred since their last examination. Another 13 students, 17%, were found to have previously unidentified vision problems.

These findings were almost exactly consistent with the results at the only other school where this kind of testing has been done: a Melbourne government primary school. At that school, 30% of the students were found to have vision/eye health problems. Problems identified ranged from myopia (blurred distance vision) to hyperopia (difficulty focusing up close) to astigmatism (distortion of vision) to amblyopia (lazy eye). There is however a substantial difference in that half of the Candlebark children had been previously tested, whereas many/most of the other school’s population had not. At Candlebark, half the possible eye-health problems had been previously discovered; at the other school only a few had.

We participated in a second research project, a survey of the salt intake of school students. This was conducted by Deakin University, and was the first Australian study to assess salt intake in children, using the validated 24-hour urine collection method. Given that excessive salt intake can affect cardiovascular health in later life, the researchers wanted to establish whether Australian children were consuming too much salt. The National Heart Foundation was also interested in establishing how much children’s taste preferences affect their food choices, and whether, in particular, a preference for salt leads them to make poor food choices. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that most children are consuming far too much salt, and parents of students in this situation were informed of the findings.

Another innovation in 2010 was the introduction of a Community Service scheme for the Year eight students. We felt that these young people had reached an age where they should be able to develop a commitment to the wider community – Candlebark and beyond. I never want the kids here to have a sense of entitlement and as they approach Year nine, when they become our senior group, it’s important that they can demonstrate attributes of generosity, maturity, responsibility and leadership.

So we told the year eight students that we wanted them to accumulate 100,000 points by the end of the year, by acts of community service. They responded really positively, and among the projects they undertook was a pledge that each and every one of them would run the weekly cross-country course in under 15 minutes, to set an example to younger kids. As well, they painted and refurbished the first aid room at school, they helped with catering, supervision and care of younger students at sleepovers and excursions, and they catered for various school functions. Beyond the school gates, they worked hard to raise money for a Cambodian charity, and a number of them became involved in individual projects – for example, helping teach autistic children to swim.

Towards the end of 2010 teacher Jessica Liston proposed an equestrian program for the school, which would focus not on horse riding but on helping students to progress socially, emotionally, physically and academically by working with horses. We eagerly accepted her proposal, and in the months that followed Jessica spent countless hours selflessly equipping herself in tangible and intangible ways to run the program. This included working as a volunteer with experts in the field, and thousands of kilometres during the holidays driving the length and breadth of Victoria in search of suitable horses.

We launched the program at the start of 2011. It is based on the philosophies of Equine Assisted Growth and Learning. Horses are powerful, dynamic animals that have a highly developed ability to read their environment. They react honestly to signals given to them, and provide a “mirror” for the actions and feelings of those working with them. Hence, they are wonderful “tools” for personal growth, understanding the impact of actions on others, confidence building, problem solving and developing nurturing behaviour.

The idea is that students learn to develop a relationship with the horse so that the horse willingly chooses to cooperate with them, as they will have earned the horse’s trust and respect .

The program was dramatically successful, and we received feedback throughout the year from parents reporting on the remarkable changes they had witnessed in their children, seemingly stemming directly from the work with horses.

We also introduced speech therapy to the school in 2011. The wide-ranging skills that speech therapists have nowadays enabled support to be offered to students with many different difficulties. Therapist Sally Armstrong worked with some students for just a short time, finding that a few sessions were enough to remedy problems they were experiencing, and other students throughout the year.

We added drums and vocals to our lively music program, and recruited a new cello teacher, Edwina Cordingley. It was a particular delight in 2011 to witness the number of students who chose to learn musical instruments, and the rapid improvement in their skills and confidence.

One of the most time-consuming events of 2011 was the inspection of the school by the VRQA, the Victorian Regulations and Qualifications Authority. It is the job of this authority to ensure that schools are conducted according to the rules and regulations. We knew that we had an excellent school, which does not neglect any aspect of the care or education of the children who attend it. We felt that we were easily able to demonstrate this to any statutory authority, including the VRQA. However, we were taken aback by the pedantic, hostile, and negative tone adopted by the VRQA at the beginning of the inspection, and in subsequent correspondence. It seemed to us that the culture of the organisation was unnecessarily antagonistic, and that this culture was evident at the highest level, as demonstrated by the letter we received after the inspection from the Director.

The VRQA’s attitude was especially extraordinary, given that, in my view anyway, they found nothing meaningful to criticise. I have attached to this report a letter I wrote to the director of the VRQA, in response to the report and the accompanying letter from her. In time, I was contacted by the Deputy Director of the VRQA, who visited the school, and apologised for the standard of the inspection and the rigmarole to which we had been subjected. Nevertheless, a great deal of time and energy was spent on this frustrating exercise.

I await changes in the approach to schools taken by the VRQA, as per promises made to me by them during this process.

If the VRQA inspection was the low point of 2011 – and it was – the high point was the completion of most of the building construction and alterations during the year. Every building in the school has been dramatically altered and extended, and as well, thanks to BER funding and the school’s own substantial contribution, the school has a new library. This is an innovative building constructed underground so that it can serve as a fire shelter in dire emergency. It has been engineered to the highest standards to ensure its adequacy for this role.

Photo: Sam Slicer

The library features a magnificent table made from blackwood timber obtained from a fallen tree on the property, shelves custom-made by a local craftsman, (plus bookcases bought dirt cheap from the Border’s closing sale!), and a ceramic mosaic done by students of the school under the supervision of Art teacher Basil Eliades.

The library was opened twice, firstly at a wonderful cocktail party featuring flamenco guitar music, and secondly at an official function, featuring the local member of Federal Parliament, Mr Rob Mitchell. On both occasions we were able to thank the architect, the visionary Paul Haar, and the builders, Thoroughbred Constructions of Gisborne, who set exemplary standards of careful and skilful workmanship.

As 2011 came to an end, work on the final building scheduled for extensions was also nearly finished. This means, that in a two year period the school has acquired a new dance studio, three new store rooms/music practice rooms, a Principal’s office (not nearly plush enough, but it’ll have to do), three new classrooms, an expanded science laboratory, a larger art room, an enlarged amenities block, four new bathrooms/toilets, and of course the new library/bushfire refuge. As well, a special area has now been designated as the music centre, so music teachers no longer need to traipse from building to building.

It is a happy achievement, to see the school so soundly established for the future. In 2011, we also began the process of applying to the relevant statutory authorities to raise the maximum number of students we are permitted to enroll. This involves satisfying the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that we can safely accommodate extra numbers. It is a process that was ongoing at the end of 2011.

After the Candlebark 2010 annual report was circulated, as required, to parents of students at the school, I received the following response from the father of a year nine boy:

“Thank you for sharing the annual report with us.

“The reports that matter most to us as parents are the ones coming from our kids.

“Just before A (*his son; name removed to protect him from being embarrassed by his father) left for Tanzania, I sat him down for a long chat, just to put a chalk mark where he’s at and what he’s thinking and feeling at the threshold of a new adventure. I’d like to share with you, your staff and other parents the following snippet of our chat.

F: If you could pick out a few things that make you happy, what would they be?

A: Going to Candlebark… I’m particularly happy about that. Well, there are few things that I think absolutely there’s no bad side to them… just everything about them is absolutely perfect, and Candlebark is one of them.

“I was blown over by this remark as hyperbole or hearty praise of anything is never part of A’s kit bag. So I thank you, all Candlebark teachers, staff, students and parents that together make up this “absolutely perfect” thing in A’s life.”

I couldn’t be happier with such an endorsement.

John Marsden

Click here for 2011 statistics


Candlebark’s fifth year seemed to go pretty well. My sense was that the school had a more settled and secure feeling. This alarmed me on the one hand – truly is it said that `the wanderer’s danger is to find comfort’ – but on the other hand it made for a pleasant atmosphere. The families who attend Candlebark tend I think to fall into two groups: those who come because they believe in the school’s philosophy/ideology, and those who come because other schools or systems haven’t worked for their children, and they hope this one will, even though they don’t know much about it.

Increasingly now the balance is in favour of the first group, who tend to sign up for the long-term, whereas members of the second group are often inclined to quit easily when something goes against them.

Evidence of the shift in balance can be found in the fact that we now have a pretty low turnover of students.

I’ll cheat a little and suspend for a paragraph the pretence that I’m writing this at the end of 2010, instead of in the middle of 2011, because I want to refer to a tabloid TV show that ran a program about Candlebark in April 2011. Asking if Candlebark was the best school in Australia (sadly the question was left unanswered) the show described us as a school “without rules, without boundaries, without bullying”. This hyperbole made for a dramatic increase in enrolment enquiries, but was a pretty silly statement. Anyone who believes we are a school without rules or boundaries has profoundly misunderstood us, and as for the idea that we have no bullying…. Well, for a start, I as Principal am subjected to bullying all the time, from the Australian Government, from the Victorian Government, from ACARA and the VRQA and the VIT (I won’t bore you with the details, but they’re all acronyms for government departments that administer various aspects of education – and I’m using the word “education” loosely). When politicians stop bullying each other, when politicians and bureaucrats stop bullying us, when adults make a serious attempt to reduce bullying in the workplaces and in relationships, then we will see the most significant reduction in school bullying since Flashman was expelled from Rugby for barbequing Tom Brown.

I’m bullied by others too, including those parents who try to force courses of action on me that they believe will benefit their children, even if other children’s rights are trampled on or ignored in the process. But I’m happy to report that there was less of that in 2010, and I attribute that reduction to the increased sense of stability that I mentioned in the first paragraph – and which I suppose is really all about people having learned to trust the school more as the years go by.

Anyway, time to get down to specifics. As usual, for this scintillating exercise I’m required to report on a number of particular topics, even though only an idiot would regard them as having any relevance to whether we are a successful school or not.

(a) contextual information about the school, including the characteristics of the student body: once again we enrolled our maximum of 100 students, and we continue to have a healthy waiting list. The students are spread relatively evenly from Grades Prep through 9. Class sizes in 2010 ranged from 8 to 14. Most students come from Woodend and Gisborne, but there are others from Daylesford, Kyneton, Sunbury, Melbourne, Wallan, Castlemaine, Romsey, Newham and Lancefield.

(b) teacher standards and qualifications (as mandated in the relevant jurisdiction): in 2010 we had 9 full-time teachers, 3 part-time, and 3 visiting music teachers. They are all qualified and registered, and free of infectious diseases; it would be illegal for us to employ them otherwise.

(c) workforce composition, including indigenous composition: I don’t know what this means. As well as the teaching staff, we employ a Business Manager, a Property Manager, a groundsman, a part-time cleaner, a chef/kitchen manager, and two part-time bus drivers. I haven’t asked any of the staff whether they are “indigenous”.

(d) student attendance at school, including:

(i) the rates of attendance for the whole school and for each year level; and

(ii) a description of how non-attendance is managed by the school:

Attendance rates were as follows:

Attendance Rates 2010

It should be noted that these figures were distorted by the absence overseas by two students for a prolonged length of time, and the long-term illness of another student.

When students are away for any reason, parents are expected to contact the school by phone, e-mail or any other method that is reasonably efficient. In the case of unexplained absences, we contact the parents by phone or text. Absenteeism or truancy are not problems for us.

(f) student outcomes in standardised national literacy and numeracy testing: we do our best to minimize the interference to education caused by the NAPLAN tests each year. Despite our largely ignoring them our students do well in them, although the small numbers of students we have sitting the tests make any generalization about the results largely meaningless. Detailed results are publicly available on the infamous “my schools” website, for anyone who finds that time is hanging heavily on their hands, and who has not yet discovered “Plants vs Zombies”.

(g) parent, student and teacher satisfaction with the school: we are in constant contact with parents, who are quick to report any concerns. However they regularly express, both verbally and in writing, satisfaction with the education their children are receiving. Turnover of students, as I have said, has become minimal; equally, turnover of staff has become minimal – no teaching staff left during or at the end of 2010. Students express a happiness in coming to school that is evident even at the bus stops, when they run eagerly to board the bus. All three groups are keen advocates of the school in the wider community – we get applications daily from people who have been told about the school by current or past parents, students or staff.

(i) school income broken down by funding source.

Highlights of 2010 again included many camps, sleepovers, trips and excursions, including another trip to Adelaide for WOMAD by the Year nine group, a day in Bendigo at the Art Gallery and Aquatics Centre for everyone, the screening of kids’ films at Kyneton from the Little Big Shots Film Festival, Waiting for Godot, with Ian McClelland and some other guy (but without Godot), which some students loved and other students slept through, Melbourne for the grade 5/6 kids, Canberra for the grade 6/7 kids, and Bright for four days for everyone from prep through grade 6. Grade 7 and eight went on a bike camp to the Grampians, Year nines also went to Apollo Bay for a horse riding camp, did a four-day hike from Trentham to school, went to Latrobe University for three days for a science program, and spent six weeks in China and Mongolia.

Coming to visit us and/or perform or talk to the students in 2010 were World War II RAAF bomber pilot Colin Griffin, now in his 90s, the Koehne string quartet from Vienna, Pete the Plumber with a range of poly pipes and other musical instruments, Martial Funk (a very energised blend of movement and music), journalist Catherine Deveny talking about her personal struggle – triumphantly resolved – with dyslexia, TV producer Margot McDonald (“Dead Gorgeous”), the cheerful and friendly staff and students from Fitzroy Community School, a group of lovely high school kids and their teachers from Manor Lakes, and a terrific bunch of wwoofers, including Stefan (Germany), Holly, Guy (England), David and Elise (France).

We also had for the first time a week where visiting artists/tutors worked with our kids, in fields as diverse as drawing and printmaking, filmmaking, circus skills, pottery and dance/drama. But the two blokes teaching bush carpentry without the assistance of power tools probably stole the show, and many an intrigued spectator enjoyed inspecting the stools, wooden spoons, and other creations from the Candlebark participants.

Younger children spent the Arts week exploring the world of dinosaurs and creating their own wonderful dinosaur kingdom in and around Cecilia cottage.

Another first was our participation in the RACV energy challenge, at Maryborough. Grades 5 and 6 went, and rather stole the show themselves, doing outrageously well for a school which had never entered before, and winning the presentation award.

The generosity of one of our parents made possible a particular highlight of 2010, the opportunity for many children to spend a day sailing in a training catamaran on Port Phillip Bay, and for Grade 8, an overnight sailing trip to Queenscliff.

In 2010, we were much more involved in sport with other schools, including an enjoyable trip by the high school kids to Macedon Grammar. The primary schoolers participated in quite a lot of sports days, where Candlebark consistently performed at a surprisingly high level, given our numbers, in terms of both skills and, even more noticeably, teamwork. In chess, we also batted well above our weight (I know that’s a mixed metaphor, but “boxed” sounds a bit aggressive). From more than 300 schools that participated in the 2010 Victorian chess championships, Candlebark was ranked 12th among secondary schools and 37th among primaries.

But often the most fun were the games and other stuff we made up for ourselves, including another season of European handball, and Tackle Frisbee on the top oval. We had a chess evening, hosted by Basil, where parents and kids got to learn a bit, and to compete in different games. The fete was a highlight again this year, and well supported by the adult members of the school community, so that we were able to send a good cheque off to the Pakistan flood relief appeal. Budding entrepreneurs were encouraged by their success at our garage sale day, which, like the fete was run entirely by students.

In 2010, a string ensemble was a wonderful addition to the music program, and it was lovely to see parents and teachers as well as students involved. Jorge Rodrigues joined our music staff to teach guitar, and quickly built up a good “book” of students.

Excitingly, the film Rory (Grade 4) has been making over a period of two years was released to the Candlebark public in 2010! `Cataclysm’ may have depicted a cataclysmic world in which zombies preyed on innocent passers-by, but the film’s reception was anything but cataclysmic. The crowd loved it, and asked for more. Rory got great support from his classmates in making ‘Cataclysm’, so as well as it being a terrific creative venture, it was also an outstanding exercise in collaborative work.

We had a couple of really memorable soirées and we finished the year with the epic performance of a musical called “H2O”. This was written by teacher Scott Hatcher and set to music by another teacher, Taran Carter. Their talents are awesome individually, and together, dazzling. And when those talents are combined with their huge commitment of time and energy, and supported by a dedicated team of staff members and the vivid and imaginative choreography of dance teacher Claire Rosenhain, the results were wonderful. It was a big thrill this year to see the choreographic skills of year nine student Rosie Leverton again `on display’ … her assistance with the 2010 production was again at an adult level – and to be corny for a moment, that is the kind of journey Candlebark is all about.

A major feature of 2010 was the commencement of works that will by the end of 2011 mean that every school building has been lengthened or widened, and as well, a sparkling new library constructed. A complex process involving two different building companies saw work of the highest professional quality carried out by the aptly named Thoroughbred Constructions on the library, and an unprofessional attitude by the second building company causing frustrating delays on three other buildings.

By the end of 2010 however the main classroom block was almost ready for occupancy, as was the library, two new classrooms attached to Cecilia cottage, and the new ‘enlightened’ art room. All of these were designed by Melbourne architect Paul Haar, who has given us buildings that are stunningly beautiful, economically constructed, environmentally exemplary, and delightful to visit. The highlight is the library, which has been built underground so that it can be used as a shelter from bushfire, in the unlikely event that such protection is needed. A building full of surprises, the library satisfies all the senses, and will undoubtedly be a Candlebark icon for years to come.


Here is the 2009 official report on Candlebark, as prescribed.

We are required to provide “contextual information about the School, including the characteristics of the student body”.

Devotees of “Beyond the Fringe” (if anyone even remembers it) will understand the temptation I am battling with, to write that the average student body at our school consists of four student limbs, a student torso, a student chest, and is joined to the student head by the student neck. However I am made of strong stuff, and will resist the temptation.

I’m not sure what “contextual information about the School, including the characteristics of the student body” actually means, but will confine myself to facts and say that Candlebark is a day school for children from prep through grade 9, in a forest setting, enrolling 86 students as of the August census in 2009. The typical student body lives in Gisborne, Sunbury or Woodend, and is transported to school by the student bus. However there are about 20 other student bodies scattered in a wide area from Trentham through Daylesford, Castlemaine, Newham, Lancefield, Romsey and Wallan.

Next, we are required to comment on “teacher standards and qualifications as mandated in the relevant jurisdiction”.  This seems a little redundant, as we are not allowed to employ unqualified teachers, and to employ a teacher who was not registered by the Victorian Teachers Registration Board would result in heavy fines and, if we persisted, deregistration and closure. But, be comforted in the knowledge that all our teachers are qualified, registered, and generally quite clean.

We are asked to comment on “Workforce composition, including Indigenous composition”: in 2009 we had eight full-time teachers, one 0.8 teachers, one 0.4 teacher, three visiting music teachers, a Business Manager, a Property Manager, a School Manager, a part-time cleaner, a part-time bus driver, and a full-time principal. I haven’t been rude enough to ask any of them about their indigenous composition.

Next is a requirement to discuss student Attendance at school, and the way in which non-attendance is managed by the school. For 2009, we had a student attendance rate of 95%. Parents generally notify us when a student is unable to attend, but when they don’t, we contact them. We don’t have a problem with unauthorised absenteeism.

Student outcomes in standardised national literacy and numeracy testing:

Year 3

All students exceeded the national minimum standard in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation & Numeracy for this year level except for one student in three of the categories tested.

Year 5

All students exceeded the national minimum standard in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation & Numeracy for this year level except for one student in spelling, and another student in Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation.

Year 7

All students exceeded the national minimum standard in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation & Numeracy for this year level except for one student who was below the national minimum standard in four of the categories tested.

Year 9

All students exceeded the national minimum standard in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation & Numeracy for this year level except for one student in numeracy.

We are required to give information as to our income, broken down by funding source. Hence the following pie graph:

I recently received some advertising material advertising a new set of textbooks or something similar. It asked six introductory questions.

  • Are you committed to the Personal Development of your students?
  • Do you value ‘Positive Relationships’?
  • Do you believe that TRUST is important?
  • Are you looking for new program Ideas?
  • Are you interested in new ways to met Values education outcomes?

Are you looking for new ways to minimise Bullying?

It reminded me of my short career in door-to-door selling when I was 19. We were trained to sell encyclopaedias, using disgraceful tactics. I abandoned the job after knocking on four doors. The main thrust of our sales tactics was to ask customers a series of questions to which they could only answer “yes”, so that they were conditioned to saying “yes” by the time we got to the final question, which was “Would you like to sign just here?”

It would be a brave school that answered “No” to the questions above, “No, we couldn’t give a stuff about personal development and positive relationships actually.”

These annual reports have always required us to write something which will convince those lovable, cute and cuddly bureaucrats, sitting in their remote offices, that we value values, and character development. So let me say that we are committed to the personal development of our students, we value positive relationships, we believe that trust is important, we are always looking for new program ideas and new ways to meet values education outcomes, as well as new ways to minimise bullying.

To this end we continued in 2009 to foster staff development by encouraging, hosting, and/or arranging for teachers to attend workshops or courses in subjects as diverse as the teaching of Spanish, the teaching of Maths, the teaching of reading, as well as more nebulous subjects like “Sustainability leadership & change”, “Learning Today and Tomorrow”, and “Visible Learning” (the last with Professor John Hattie). First aid, bushfire prevention and management, and new technology also came under our scrutiny.

As well as teaching ourselves, or arranging for ourselves to be taught, we taught the kiddies, or arranged for the kiddies to go places where there was a better than average chance that they might learn something. Groups of students went to places or spectacles like WOMAD, Canberra, the haute couture exhibition in Bendigo, Billy Elliot, ballets like Firebird and the Concorde program and workshops with Tasdance, the Great Ocean Walk, the Kimberleys, the Melbourne Writers Festival at Kyneton Town Hall, Scienceworks for Star Wars, “Fresh Science” at the Melbourne Museum, the Science Experience at Latrobe University, a canoe trip along the Murray River, Questacon and Parliament House and other places of interest in Canberra, the Salvador Dali exhibition, and the Melbourne Film Festival for kids. The students met, heard from and interacted with people like Professor John Hattie, flamenco exponents Paul and Lee, footballer/politician Justin Madden, writer Andy Griffiths, artist Shaun Tan, mathematician Dr. Gaye Williams, the producers and directors of the movie “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, charity worker Mother Anita from India, footysack exponent Dan Ednie, a wonderful range of international backpackers, chess teacher Nick Gibson, the Otesha cycling group, and on a regular basis, students and teachers from Sunbury Special School… as well as echidnas, snakes, kangaroos, koalas and wallabies….

Using our own resources we staged a History Week, which offered the opportunity to explore specialized historical topics in considerable depth. The range included The Black Death, History of Sailing Ships, the New Testament, the Renaissance, The Seven Wonders of the World, Bushrangers, and the French Revolution. One of the outcomes involved the whole school getting held up by bushrangers as we were completing a cross-country run, and being taken down to Stringybark Creek where we witnessed a shootout between Ned Kelly’s gang and the police.

And a week-long Drama Festival, which resulted in audiences moving from a scene from Berthold Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, enacted on an old buggy behind the amenities block, down to the creek to see a fantastical performance among the autumn leaves by preps and grade ones. Drama was further enhanced by the adventurous and delightful midyear production of The Real Inspector Hound, along with a short second play, Catastrophe, and later the end of year musical Sanctuary Springs, written by staff-member Scott Hatcher, set to music by Taran Carter, and choreographed by Sarita Ryan, with Rosie Leverton and Belinda Saltmarsh-Kram. We had a real hit with this, and the performance was enhanced further for many of us by our awareness of the number of individual stories of challenges set and triumphantly met during the rehearsals and performances.

We also had many sleepovers and camps, and took the entire school to a four-day camp at Anglesea. We participated successfully in the Premier’s Reading Challenge, and continued a strong commitment to chess, which started to bear fruit in one respect at least: success in local tournaments which in turn earned us entry to the Interschool State championships, an unusual achievement for a school our size.

And that, dear friends in the Department of This and the Department of That, is a limited picture of our school in 2009, or in other words, our official annual report.


Yes folks, another riveting charge through a year in the life of Candlebark, as required by the Australian Government Programmes for Schools Quadrennial Administrative Guidelines 2005 to 2008.

Staff Retention and Attendance

In 2008, Candlebark had 7 full time teachers including the Principal, plus 5 part time teachers, 3 visiting instrumental teachers, and two aides employed to provide support for children with learning difficulties. Two part-time teachers and two full-time teachers left at the end of the year. This may sound a lot, but none seemed to be leaving through dissatisfaction with the school; quite the contrary. One however left because a position was abolished. The staff attendance rate was 97%.

Student Attendance

In 187 teaching days we had 447 absences, representing an attendance rate of 97.14%

Staff Professional Development

Among external courses/seminars/conferences attended by staff in 2008 were ones in special education, Italian, first aid, positive interventions with children who present challenging behaviours, reading, ballet teaching, and the teaching of phonics. Additional to this is school initiated professional development, which in 2008 included the teaching of Maths, with Dr Gaye Williams; of Science, with Dr Jenny Sharwood; of literacy, with Stephen Graham; a psychotherapeutic approach to issues that arise within schools, with Carolyn Aston; and workshops and symposia in various other subject areas. $9568.10 was spent on staff professional development.

Value Added

Candlebark adds value in many different ways, for example by offering a weekly programme of activities which has included first aid, 500 (that’s the card game) in Spanish, gardening, knitting, drama, pottery, cooking, Italian, basketball skills, hockey skills, animation, Rube Goldberg Machines, film-making, writing, and many others. Although a small school, we have many camps, excursions and sleepovers, which in 2008 included bike camps, a ski trip, a camp in Melbourne, hiking (in the Grampians, along the Cross-Cut Saw, and from Trentham to Kerrie), a camp in Beechworth, six weeks in Italy for the Year 9’s, the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, as well as bush camping, tours of the Australian Ballet Headquarters, and many more.


Values and character development are important to us. We are probably unique among Australian schools in this respect. We expect students to value niceness over evil, be inclusive, and take on responsibilities that challenge them to aspire to higher levels. A great deal of staff time and energy goes into creating a climate that is positive and benevolent. We encourage students to think in empathetic and creative ways and we didactically teach communication skills and resilience.


We participated enthusiastically – for the second year – in the Premier’s Reading Challenge. 54 students completed the challenge, and 1698 books were read. We continue to use the Fitzroy Reading Method, a phonics-based program, as the foundation of our literacy education, with outstanding results.


Many students learned a musical instrument (piano, guitar, cello) in one-on-one lessons. Dance continued to feature strongly in the school program, with very pleasing outcomes. There were many opportunities for students to have extra dance instruction during their free time. We had a number of concerts and soirees throughout the year, culminating in a production of Kid A, a musical written and producd by a staff member, and which involved every child in the school.


Formal competitive sport against other schools has never been part of the school’s program, but students played a wide variety of sports during PE, during free time, and during activity sessions. The sports included basketball, soccer, rugby, cricket and tennis. Bike riding, bushwalking, cross country running and orienteering are also featured at Candlebark. In 2008 a school triathlon was held for the second time, which around here means it now qualifies as a Tradition. The triathlon included all students, from Prep to Year nine. In 2008 the school again participated in a touch rugby competition, entering a mixed team of adults and students. We actually won two games.

Other Activities

The Grade 6 students won a trip to the Melbourne Show, as successful finalists in an Art competition, and came home with a life-size fibreglass cow, painted to their design. We’re still wondering where to put the damn thing. The school put on a major musical production of a play called Kid A, an innovative full-length theatrical extravaganza, written by staff member Scott Hatcher. A sophisticated and contemporary/futuristic Christmas story, it explored many aspects of our greed/consumerism driven culture. Chess is an activity that is particularly encouraged. It is part of the school timetable, and a popular activity during free time, with much support from staff.

Academic Outcomes

Candlebark is a non-selective school attracting a wide variety of students. We are required to publish Naplans test results, even though we do not consider them to be of much value: NAPLANS Test results: Year 3: All students exceeded the national minimum standard in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation and Numeracy, for this year level. Year 5: All students exceeded the national minimum standard in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation and Numeracy, for this year level. Year 7: All students exceeded the national minimum standard in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation and Numeracy, for this year level, except for one student who was below the national minimum standard in Writing and Spelling. Year 9: All students exceeded the national minimum standard in Reading, Writing, Spelling, Grammar & Punctuation and Numeracy, for this year level.

Annual Parental Survey

To comply with bureaucratic requirements a parental survey was distributed to all families in early 2009. Only four responses were received. This may be because parents who have concerns about the school don’t wait until they get a survey form after the year is finished to express those concerns. Anyway, the results were very positive, even if not of much statistical significance. The school receives many unsolicited e-mails and other messages from parents, expressing their delight with the school. Parents frequently refer other families looking for a school to Candlebark, but we have so many students seeking places at the school that waiting lists are effectively closed. We regard these as more meaningful criteria than surveys.

Annual Teacher Survey

To comply with bureaucratic requirements a survey of teachers was delivered to all teaching staff in May 2009. None responded. No intimidation or blandishments were employed to bring about this result. It’s more likely that they felt they had better things to do with their time, like, hhmmm, let me guess…. I know, teaching!. The staff members at Candlebark consistently express in words and actions a positive attitude towards the school.

Candlebark’s Teaching Staff 2008

At the highest level of attainment, as specified by the reporting conditions, the academic staff held the following degrees and diplomas: one doctorate, one Masters’ degree, and ten Bachelors’ degrees. Candlebark acknowledges that it uses its best endeavours to ensure that it conforms with the relevant Government Acts, both State and Federal relating to educational institutions. Immunisation Requirements for School Enrolment 1. The school acknowledges its responsibilities under the Public Health (Amendment) Act 1992 (The Act) in relation to the control of vaccine-preventable diseases. 2. Parents enrolling their children are required to provide the school with an Immunisation Certificate. 3. In the event of an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, the school upholds the provisions of the Act requiring that un-immunised children are excluded from the school for the duration of the outbreak. The word “outbreak” in The Act is used in the context of a child enrolled at the school suffering from a vaccine-preventable disease.


Once again we have to write one of these as a requirement of the Australian Government Programmes for Schools Quadrennial Administrative Guidelines 2005 to 2008.

Staff Retention and Attendance

In 2007, Candlebark had 5 full time teachers including the Principal, 5 part time teachers, 3 visiting instrumental teachers, and 1 learning support teacher. The learning support teacher continued the tradition of learning-support-teachers-not-staying-long, and resigned a week before the end of the academic year. That caused a little flurry of excitement, especially for people with too much time on their hands. A part-time music teacher left during the year, and a full-time teacher left at the end of the year. The staff attendance rate was 97%.

Student Attendance

The student attendance rate for 2007 was 93.5%

Staff Professional Development

Among external courses attended by staff in 2007 were ones in special education, first aid, and the teaching of phonics. Additional to this is school initiated professional development, which included the teaching of Maths, and workshops and symposia in various other subject areas. This year we’re also required to report the amount we spend on professional learning. This is meaningless for us, as we take full advantage of our contacts, the network of nice people who wish the school well, and our own experience and expertise to put together an active programme at minimal cost. But anyway, we spent $2009 on this item in 2007.

Value Added

Candlebark adds value in many different ways, for example by offering a weekly programme of activities which has included sewing, knitting, drama, pottery, weaving, cooking, Italian, basketball skills, soccer skills, animation, rugby skills, writing, and many others. We also have many camps, excursions and sleepovers, which in 2007 included trips to the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks at Bendigo, the Guggenheim exhibition, the Pixar animation exhibition, Cirque du Soleil, the Cathedral Ranges, Rye Beach, the Human Body Exhibition at Docklands, the Incomplete World Exhibition, the Melbourne Comedy Festival, the Holocaust Museum, the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, the Chinese Museum at Bendigo, as well as bush camping, performances by the Australian Ballet, a performance by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and many more. Values and character development are important to us. Who would have thought?


We expect students to show kindness and courtesy towards others, and we encourage them to take on many responsibilities. A great deal of staff time and energy goes into creating a climate which is positive and benevolent. We encourage students to think in empathetic and creative ways and we didactically teach communication skills and resilience.


Many students learned a musical instrument (piano, guitar, voice, cello) in one-on-one lessons. Dance featured strongly in the school program; every student at Candlebark is a dancer. There were many opportunities for students to have extra dance instruction during their free time. We had a number of concerts and soirees throughout the year, culminating in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Formal competitive sport against other schools is not currently part of the school’s program, but students played a wide variety of sports during PE, during free time, and during activity sessions. The sports included basketball, soccer, rugby, cricket and tennis. Bike riding, bushwalking, cross country running and orienteering are also featured at the school. In 2007 a school triathlon was held for the first time — it included all students, from Prep to Year eight. We also participated for the first time in a touch rugby competition, entering two teams of students, and a mixed team of adults and students.

Other activities

The school put on a major musical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, blending Shakespeare with Gilbert and Sullivan and a variety of dance numbers in a show which involved all students and was probably the greatest theatrical event ever staged at the Romsey Mechanics’ Hall. Chess is an activity that is particularly encouraged. It is part of the school timetable, and a popular activity during free time, with much support from staff.

Academic Outcomes

Candlebark is a non-selective school attracting a wide variety of students. AIM Tests Of our students who sat for the AIM tests in 2007, all Year 7 students exceeded the national benchmarks, except for two who were below the national benchmarks in numeracy. (This assessment comprises reading, writing, and numeracy). In Grade 5, all students exceeded all national benchmarks. In Grade 3, all students exceeded all national benchmarks.

Annual Parental Survey

As required, a parental survey was distributed to all families in mid-2008. The response rate was about 17%. The results were extremely positive, even if not very statistically significant. The school receives many unsolicited e-mails and other messages from parents, expressing their delight with the school. Parents frequently refer other families looking for a school to Candlebark, but we have so many students seeking places at the school that waiting lists are effectively closed.

Annual Teacher Survey

As required, a survey of teachers was delivered to all teaching staff in mid–2008. None responded. No intimidation or blandishments were employed to bring about this result. They possibly felt they had better things to do with their time. The staff at Candlebark consistently express an idealistic and dedicated commitment to the school and are thoroughly engaged in curricular and extra-curricular activities.

Candlebark’s Academic Staff 2007

At the highest level of attainment, as specified by the reporting conditions, the following degrees and diplomas were held by the eight academic staff: one doctorate, one Masters’ degree, six Bachelors’ degrees.


This collection of bland generalisations and relatively meaningless statistics, produced as a requirement of the Australian Government Programmes for Schools Quadrennial Administrative Guidelines 2005 to 2008 is designated the Candlebark Annual Report for 2006.

Staff Retention and Attendance

In 2006, Candlebark had 4 full time teachers, 3 part time teachers, 2 visiting instrumental teachers, and 2 support staff. During 2006 one of the support teachers left, and was replaced, and at the end of 2006 one part time teacher left. This gives an overall staff retention rate of 91%. The staff attendance rate was 98.3%.

Student Attendance

The student attendance rate for 2006 was 95.3%

Staff Professional Development

Among courses attended by staff in 2006 were the Victorian Principal’s Conference, AISWA Conference, first aid courses, courses on Bloom’s taxonomy and on the teaching of phonics. Additional to this is school initiated professional development.

Value Added

Candlebark adds value in many different ways, for example by offering a weekly programme of activities which can range from basketball to knitting, from cooking to ceramics. We also have many camps, excursions and sleepovers, which in 2006 included trips to theatre, ballet, CERES, circuses and a factory. Values and character development are important to us.


We expect students to show kindness and courtesy towards others, and we encourage them to take on many responsibilities. A great deal of staff time and energy goes into creating a climate which is positive and benevolent. We encourage students to think in empathetic and creative ways.


Just under 50% of the students learned a musical instrument (piano, guitar, voice, cello) in one-on-one lessons. A voluntary choir met at lunchtimes and dance featured strongly in the school program. There were many opportunities for students to have extra dance instruction during their free time. We had a number of concerts and soirees throughout the year, culminating in a production of A Christmas Carol.


Formal competitive sport against other schools is not part of the school’s program, but students played a wide variety of sports during PE, during free time, and during activity sessions. The sports included basketball, soccer, rugby, cricket and tennis. Bike riding, bushwalking, cross country running and orienteering are particular features of the school’s program.

Other activities

The school put on a major musical production of A Christmas Carol which involved all students. Chess is an activity that is particularly encouraged. It is part of the school timetable, and a popular activity during free time, with much support from staff.

Academic Outcomes

Candlebark is a non-selective school, and in our first year we attracted a wide variety of students. AIM Tests Of our students who sat for the AIM tests in 2006, 100% of Year 7 students exceeded the national benchmarks. This assessment comprises reading, writing, and numeracy. In Grade 5, all students exceeded the national benchmarks except for two students whose reading was below the national benchmark. In Grade 3, all students but one exceeded the national benchmarks.

Annual Parental Survey

A parental survey was distributed to all families in mid-2007. The response rate was 6%. The results, although positive, are statistically insignificant. The school receives many unsolicited e-mails and other messages from parents, expressing their delight with the school. Parents frequently refer other families looking for a school to Candlebark, but we have so many students seeking places at the school that waiting lists are effectively closed.

Annual Teacher Survey

A survey of teachers was delivered to all teaching staff in mid–2007. One teacher responded. The results, although positive, are statistically insignificant. The staff at Candlebark consistently express an idealistic and dedicated commitment to the school.

Candlebark’s Academic Staff 2006

At the highest level of attainment, as specified by the reporting conditions, the following degrees and diplomas were held by the seven teaching staff: one doctorate, three Masters’ degrees, seven Bachelors’ degrees, seven Diplomas, and two certificates.