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Breaking down the age barriers

Michael McVeigh  |  12 February 2020

Sacred Heart College in Geelong, Victoria, is changing the way leadership roles are made available to students, and it means more students have the opportunity to step up and contribute to the community.

Leadership in most schools develops much like the academic curriculum. At junior levels, students learn the fundamentals in their year level groups. As they progress through the school, the opportunities for pursuing different pathways increase. They finally gain the most responsibility for learning – and leadership – in Year 12.

Sacred Heart College in Geelong, Victoria, however, is flipping the model on its head. First in terms of academics, and now in terms of leadership.

‘We’re in the process of redesigning learning’, says Deputy Principal Catherine Gulli. ‘What we’ve decided is that we’re giving our students choice about what they want to do, and age is no longer a thing that determines that they should be in a certain class.’


Rather than going by the age of students, the school looks at the maturity of the individual.

‘If we believe a student is mature enough to take a class then we’re going to let them take a class, even if they’re Year 7 and they’re going into a Year 10 class.’

When they started removing barriers to students in terms of their academic pursuits, the school realised that they also needed to reconsider the barriers they put forward in terms of school leadership.

‘We realised out student leadership model wasn’t actually aligned to our philosophy’, says Catherine. ‘Those students who have the skills and the ability and the maturity – we weren’t giving them the opportunity to take on leading roles.’

Where previously the main student leaders at the school were Year 12s, now any student is able to put themselves forward for leadership.


‘If we have a Year 8 who is mature enough and skilled enough and pursuing leadership opportunities in other areas, then why can’t they be one of our main leaders driving initiatives across the school?’

The previous school leadership model had two leaders per year level per house (four houses in total), now there’s no limit to the number of house leaders per year level. Additionally, where previously there were leaders in areas in each house – e.g. sports leader – now house leaders are responsible for leading all sorts of initiatives through four ‘focus areas’: Mercy and Mission; Community Engagement; Caring Communities; and Learning Leaders.

‘Our aim is always to educate girls so that they’re making decisions that basically change the world.

So we want them to have as many leadership opportunities as possible’, says Catherine.


‘If we’re letting our younger students take on these other roles, what we’re allowing them to do is develop skills in one area and then the following year they might go for another role and develop skills in another area.’

Year 9 student Charlotte Maw was elected to her house leadership group for next year, and is part of the Community Engagement group at the school.

‘I chose that role because it was something that I was interested in, and I felt that it was something that I could implement change with’, says Charlotte.

Charlotte says she’s interested in journalism or business marketing when she leaves school, and is excited about what she and her other focus group members have planned for the year – including a regular video update for students about current community involvement opportunities.

‘It’s a bit about marketing, but also about getting to meet other people and make new connections’, she says.

Tanya Glessing is the Student Empowerment Leader at the school. Part of her role is bringing student leaders into the life of the school – including involving them in policy making and even in the interview process for new staff. The idea of the four focus areas, in particular, is to provide avenues for students to propose and make changes that will have an impact on the whole community.

‘Because they’re students, they’re actually identifying places where they feel there are gaps’, says Tanya.

Students are de-identified in the election process. Those interested in nominating for leadership write an application and put together a portfolio. Students are vetted by the outgoing leadership team, and a shortlist is put together. A shortlist of de-identified portfolios is then put forward to the student bodyfor voting.


Drawing on student leaders from a range of year levels also helps ensure the interests of the whole student community are represented.

‘There’s different problems in each year level’, says Charlotte.

‘If all the leaders are just in one, they only hear what’s in their year level, or what their friends tell them. There are students in Year 7 or 8 that have other issues. So it’s nice to be able to be represented throughout the school.’

Next year the school celebrates its 160th anniversary, with a range of events planned throughout the year.

The new group of leaders will have a number of opportunities to represent the school and bring the community together, and it will be exciting to have students of different year levels represented.

‘It’s breaking down those age barriers’, says Catherine.  

Pictured left to right: Sacred Heart College Student Empowerment Leader Tanya Glessing, Year 7 Student Leader Sienna Carlini, Year 9 Student Leader Charlotte Maw, and Deputy Principal Catherine Gulli.


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