In the same week that Malcolm Turnbull encouraged innovation and fresh ideas, Ravenswood reacted negatively to their school captain for public relationsdoing just that. In the process I think the school created a public relations nightmare – see the Facebook commentary – and breathed life into a story that might have otherwise received much less commentary.

In essence, the school captain, Sarah Haynes, in an end-of-year speech was mildly critical, reflecting what many people already believe about private schools, “being run more and more like businesses where everything becomes financially motivated”. She also alluded to various issues, between the school and her sister, of censorship, and other imperfections.

I was on the NSW Parents Council Executive (represents private school parents) for a short period, so I had a small amount of contact with various schools. Constricted values are pervasive, cleverly disguised as preserving tradition. It’s not a concern to me that the values are old-fashioned (although they are), but that they are constipated and narrow, reducing outside-the-box behaviour and thinking.

A school can, at the same time, maintain traditions and encourage fresh thinking – it can inspire thought-provoking conflict. Robust debate is good, as long as it’s respectful and positive.

Instead the Ravenswood response to the speech was a neat and dismissive put-down. It also (unwisely) gave wider voice to an otherwise little known internal controversy – that Sarah Haynes comments related to “an incident of alleged bullying” at the school, now before the courts.

In short the school implied that Haynes comments were about her bitterness, not the school’s behaviour.

Public Relations option

Here’s what an innovative, expansive school could have included in the note to parents:

“Last night Sarah Haynes made an extraordinary speech. We applaud her courage, and celebrate that the school produces such fresh and critical thinking, at the same time recognising not everyone will agree with it. Congratulations Sarah!

“Some of Sarah’s comments were directed at the people who run this school, and we will consider them carefully. But overwhelmingly we endorse her right to challenge the status quo, coincidently made on the same day that Malcolm Turnbull started a national conversation on innovation.”

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