Monday 13 May 2024


I often ponder what a wonderful industry we work in - how we develop so many connections with wonderful people, both young and old, and how we are privileged to be able to learn so much from them all.

And with the start of a new year we see over 1,000 new staff join the Australian Boarding scene, with nearly a quarter of our boarding places gaining new leadership, with young staff venturing into their first world of work, with older staff taking a turn in their careers - isn’t it an exciting journey we are all on.

Our work at ABSA takes us to many places - most recently across the country to Alice Springs, Dubbo, Perth and Quorn to connect with and support the wonderful work of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, the parents of the children who represent over 75% of our boarders. The passion to see their children receive equal access to education never fails to amaze, but also reminds us how important our work can be in the boarding house - being that place away from home which provides support, guidance, understand, a listening ear, opportunity and stability to list just a few.

People who work in boarding are a special breed and looking after other people’s children is a special responsibility. Too often we don’t salute and recognise you all for the amazing work you do. Just recently we were asked what are the most important characteristics to look for in potential boarding staff and my answer began with ‘the need to like working with children’. How amusing, when you look at the myriad of responsibilities upon the shoulders of boarding staff that the most important criteria might be a desire to work with children!

So this Easter, as I sit here finalising this first edition of Lights Out I hope that all of you working in boarding can celebrate the incredible work you do. Boarding Staff day on Friday May 17, as part of National Boarding Week, is one special day we are hoping to get boarders, their families, and all other school staff to publicly honour your wonderful service. We encourage you to look at the Accredited Boarding Practitioner program we offer to help all boarding staff be recognised for their service and professional standing - the application process is easy and the awarding of this professional recognition most worthwhile.

Enjoy your opportunities to guide and support the young people in your care - they will remember you well in their future.


Wednesday 13 December 2023

The Role of a Boarding Supervisor

In the intricately woven fabric of boarding school life, the role of a boarding school supervisor stands out as a crucial thread. These individuals are more than mere overseers; they act as guardians, mentors, and sometimes even as surrogate parents. For many students, they become the pillars of support during the transitionary period of boarding school life. It is thus essential to address an emerging concern in some schools - the need for boarding school supervisors to remain active and engaged during their duty hours, rather than diverting their attention to personal tasks.

The Responsibility of a Supervisor

At its core, the responsibility of a boarding school supervisor is the well-being, safety, and development of the students under their care. From ensuring that boarders follow their schedules and maintain discipline to being there as a confidante during moments of homesickness or academic pressure, a supervisor’s role is multifaceted.

However, when supervisors engage in personal tasks during their duty hours, it can lead to lapses in oversight. Whether it’s completing personal assignments, indulging in entertainment, or even something seemingly harmless like scrolling through social media, such distractions can compromise the primary duty at hand.

Potential Implications of Divided Attention

  • Safety Concerns: Active supervision ensures that potential hazards, whether they be physical, emotional, or psychological, are addressed promptly. A distracted supervisor might overlook signs of distress, bullying, or any other issue that could escalate if not addressed in time.
  • Discipline Lapses: Consistency is crucial in maintaining discipline. When supervisors are not fully present, students might take liberties with rules, leading to a gradual erosion of the established order and potentially fostering an environment where rules are seen as flexible.
  • Missed Teachable Moments: Boarding school life is full of teachable moments - instances where life lessons can be imparted. A supervisor engrossed in personal tasks may miss out on these spontaneous opportunities to guide and mentor.
  • Relationship Building: Active engagement with students fosters trust. When supervisors remain present, both physically and mentally, they can build stronger relationships with students. These relationships often act as the bedrock for effective mentorship.

Changing the Paradigm: Shifting Priorities

It is understandable that everyone, including supervisors, need personal time. The rigours of overseeing a group of energetic young minds can be taxing. However, the key is to distinguish personal time from duty hours. Here are a few strategies that can assist in ensuring supervisors remain active and engaged:

  • Scheduled Breaks: Just as there are designated times for meals, study, and recreation for students, supervisors too should have clear, scheduled breaks. This not only gives them a designated period for personal tasks but also ensures they return refreshed.
  • Professional Development: Continuous training programs that emphasise the importance of active supervision and its implications can be beneficial. Role-playing scenarios can help supervisors understand the potential risks of inattention. The free ABSA ‘Active Duty’ Course is a clear reminder of the things to remember in this area.
  • Technological Aids: The use of technology, such as walkie-talkies or surveillance cameras, can be a boon. They can serve as additional eyes and ears, but they should supplement human oversight, not replace it.
  • Feedback Mechanism: Encourage students to voice their concerns. If they feel neglected or believe that their supervisors aren’t as active as they should be, there should be a safe and anonymous avenue for them to communicate this.
  • Personal Workspace: If possible, boarding schools can designate a specific area for supervisors to complete personal tasks during their breaks. This physical demarcation can serve as a reminder of their primary responsibilities when they are in the students’ space.

In Conclusion

Boarding schools are much more than institutions of academic learning. They mould characters, build resilience, and foster community values. At the heart of this transformative experience are the supervisors, whose guidance can leave a lasting impact on a student's life.

Being present, in every sense of the word, is not just an obligation; it's a privilege. Every interaction, every nod of approval, every word of advice, and even every disciplinary action plays a part in shaping young lives. Let's honour this responsibility by ensuring that when the lights are on in our boarding schools, our attention is undivided and unwavering.

Friday 14 July 2023

What Makes Boarding Staff Training Different?

During the last six months I have been in discussion with a number of professional learning providers about what they are offering and, without fail, they are intrigued when I talk about the incredible role our boarding staff play looking after other people’s children for that other 18 hours a day - when they are not in class.

Most recently we have been working with a provider to put together some online Child Protection training which is aimed at the specific needs of boarding staff - concentrating on areas such as grooming, careful supervision around bedroom and bathroom spaces and developing protocols which ensure both the boarders themselves and the staff working with them are comfortable and safe. This was highlighted even more to me recently when I met up with one of my ex-boarders from the early 1990s and he talked about how when training to become a counsellor it brought back to him his experience as a Year Eight boarder when one of the staff clearly was grooming him - thankfully for him nothing more happened, whilst

for others this was not the case.

Our Duty of Care Level Two - Essential Knowledge workshop highlights these issues specifically, but it is clear to me that one training in this area is nowhere near enough - it must be re-visited annually and mention the specific situation that boarding is, so that it is completely relevant and the perfect reminder of our need to take care and watch. So we are looking forward to being able to provide this for our members later this year.

However, child safety is not the only issue in which our staff need continual training - it is every aspect of their boarding journey. This term we have provided Certificate Courses in both Risk and Academic Performance Improvement, the Online Boarding Conference had some great speakers once again, and the ongoing webinars provide deep learning in specific topics relevant to the work of the boarding house staff member. However sometimes I wonder why these online activities are not oversubscribed - especially

given we have over 3,900 boarding staff in Australia. I have heard all sorts of excuses - we don’t have a budget for that, our teachers do heaps of professional development, we don’t have enough time in the day, just to name a few but I challenge you to consider it with your legal glasses on - what will that day in court be like if the only training boarding staff have undertaken was a Duty of Care workbook

completed six years ago?

For too long the boarding section of the school has been treated like the poor cousin, the one who gets the spoils of PD money once all the important people in the school have spent theirs. For too long those boarding staff who work part-time in boarding and also work elsewhere have used the excuse that they don’t have time.

For too long those who are also teachers in the school treat boarding as an add-on and therefore not one which requires any level of training. And for too long those running our boarding houses have thought they have all the answers and there is nothing more they can learn. As the lucky one who gets to see most of our training options as part of my work I can’t believe how much better I would have been at my job running a boarding school if I had had the opportunity to up-skill like we do today. 

So here are ten quick ways you might consider expanding yours and your boarding team’s learning:

1. if you have subscribed to the webinar bundle (and for those of you who haven’t this is by far the cheapest online training available for your staff) structure your staff meetings around getting

staff to report back on a webinar they found useful and/or interesting over the last term.

2. closely follow your PD certificates (your Head of Boarding gets a listing each term and every staff member can request one from our office) to ensure you undertake at least 15 hours

of training each year.

3. if you are new to boarding, complete the Duty of Care Level 1 - Induction course online which is free for all members

4. complete the free online courses ‘Active Duty’ and ‘Top Tips for Boarding Staff’

5. check the range of Certificate Courses offered each term and subscribe to at least one every year

6. send in a request to our office if you have a topic which is pressing in your work and you would like us to teach out learning on

7. if your work includes handing out medication to boarders, complete the online 'Administer Medications’ course

8. spend time watching the free online boarding house tours - they are a fantastic way to pick up new ideas and learn how others have solved the same problems you face

9. whilst you will have missed the 2023 Online Boarding Conference, make this a priority for future years. Where else can you get access to fabulous international keynote speakers for such a reasonable price and without leaving your staffroom or office?

10. Register for the International Boarding Conference in September to be held in Hobart - the program entitled ‘Keeping Boarders’ Lives Safer’ is quite exciting.

Good luck on your professional journey in this wonderful profession and don’t forget that ABSA is here to help you at every step along the way.

Richard Stokes

Chief Executive Officer

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Are We Doing Our Job?

Imagine you are a new boarding parent and the idea of sending your child to boarding had never crossed you mind until your circumstances changed a few months before the school year started. Where would you start? How do you know what boarding school can best serve your needs? What thoughts might go through your mind?

My first thoughts would be - how do I know they will look after my child properly? How can they prove this to me? Do they measure themselves against anything? How can they get help when something goes wrong?

Now, I do know I’m a little biased when I look at these ideas - but I would be very confident that many of your new parents would have been thinking the same thing. So how do you know

you’ve got it right for the moment and kept up with all the rapid changes occurring in our industry? Do you measure yourself? Is there anything you can do to ensure you can answer their questions with real confidence? Of course there is......

Many boarding schools over the last few years have reached out to see if we could help them by reviewing their boarding operation and sharing ideas garnered over many hundreds of visits to schools and a deep understanding of the one thing we have to measure our success: AS5725:2015 Boarding Standard for Australian Schools and Residences. I must admit this is one of the great joys of my work, getting the chance to talk with all boarding and many key school staff, parents and the boarders themselves about how things are operating, and then producing a detailed report on the strengths and weaknesses of the program being reviewed. 

These are not only asked for by schools who feel they are struggling - quite the opposite in fact, as strong boarding programs are often very keen to become even stronger, and ‘outside eyes’, especially those with a good deal of boarding experience, provide this opportunity.

Other schools are very keen to get detailed responses from well designed surveys of boarders and boarding parents, and use these questionnaires to gauge how well their boarding programs are working. Parents need to be asked regularly about how they view a school’s boarding program, and requested to provide responses which can guide the development and expansion of key programs to assist the boarders. Those within our care, too, need to be able to voice their opinion on how boarding is going, and be respected for their opinions and advice. Surveys such as this satisfy a number of the sections of the Boarding Standard which expects regular feedback from parents and boarders.

And the exciting development is the completion of our Certification Scheme. With the lockdowns and border closures of Covid behind us we have been able to finalise the scheme we began putting together back in 2017 which includes two levels of self-assessment to ensure all items within the Standard are covered, and now a Certification inspection and the ability to happily be a Certified Boarding School. Two trial schools have helped us ensure the program is robust and workable, and given us an understanding of the work involved and the time it takes, and we will roll out the option to all schools in the next few weeks.

But why would you do any of these - as they all cost money, and we all know money is tight in our schools? The simple answer is because they satisfy the one and only Standard which exists to ensure our boarding schools and their programs are up-to-scratch. The longer answer is because if we don’t continually appraise ourselves, measure ourselves and ensure we are providing an appropriate standard of care for our boarders we will start to fall behind and struggle for enrolments as the boarders will be going elsewhere - where the School is meeting the Standard.

Food for thought - I’m more than happy to chat in greater depth if you are interested.

Friday 18 November 2022

What could you improve?

Many of you reading this will have noticed that I often challenge people in my piece in Lights Out - and this edition is no different. Do you know how your boarding school is faring when compared with others? If not (and this is the case with many of our member schools), what are you doing about it? I get concerned from time to time when schools report that their enrolments have a waiting list - do they then rest on their laurels and sit back and accept that they are in a greta situation? Whilst it is wonderful to see a school with a boarding waiting list, those who don’t then reach out to consolidate this to ensure their parents are the best advocates possible for their boarding service are putting themselves at risk. Boarding numbers are influenced by so many wide and varied aspects - and acknowledging these and ensuring a well developed and thought through marketing plan is in place is critical for boarding success. During 2022 we have conducted ten reviews of boarding programs to assist them in their development, and in each case we have been able to assist the schools to raise the profile of their boarding house, to assist them with their marketing, and to ensure they are providing a boarding service which is of excellent quality. Each of them needs to be commended for putting their school on the line and asking the hard questions - and my challenge to everyone reading this is to do the same - ask just how your boarding program is going, and what will it look like in five years time? What is excellent practice around Australia, and the world, and how close are you? What could you improve?

Friday 15 July 2022

The Great Professional Learning Debate

In many a conversation I have with Principals and Heads of Boarding Schools I am reminded of the importance of effective Induction Training for boarding staff, and how difficult it is to provide this effectively before staff begin their important work with our boarders.  It is the reason we here at ABSA are writing an online Boarding Induction course which will be available before the year ends - to assist every one of our boarding schools with getting the critical information across to those about to take on the formidable role of looking after boarders.

However, it is the ongoing Professional Learning for boarding schools which is the great debate. 

How much learning should boarding staff do? 

What do we do about all our casual staff?

How targeted must it be?

What are the key topics?

How do we handle people’s busy schedules?

What needs to be re-visited regularly?

All of these are great questions, and ones which we at ABSA are trying to make easy for you all. Some people tell me we offer too many webinars, and my answer is always the same - they are not aimed at all staff - it is different topics, and different levels of role, which make some but not all relevant for every staff member. We are trying to cover all needs.

However, there are some which are relevant to all - the free online Active Duty Course was written for every staff member to undertake - from Heads of Boarding right down to the casual junior supervisor - and this course is a reminder which everyone should do regularly - maybe even every year. It concerns me that FREE training such as Active Duty and our Top Tips courses have not bee taken up by every one of our boarding schools, and every member of staff.

But the question which doesn’t ring true to me is:

Doesn’t teaching PD cover my boarding needs?

My simple answer is - probably not. Whilst I believe boarding staff are the most important teachers our boarders have, their roles are much more complex and cover so many more topics. And they work the other 18 hours each day, and all weekend. If you work in boarding you need to learn about boarding, you need to put aside time to learn more about your role and the critical support work you do. Do you feel confident that if your school ends up in court you can easily answer the question “and what boarding professional learning have your staff done”? Youth Mental Health, Understanding their Technological Needs and Uses, developing Cultural Competence with those groups you have in your boarding house, understanding the Behaviour Management Pillars, learning more about the multitude of risks associated in boarding - these are just of few of the specific topics which relate to our boarding houses and which would only be effectively covered by boarding specific training. After all, you wouldn’t put a teach in front of a class without specific teaching training - what about a boarding staff member in a dormitory?

So what can you do in your boarding houses to better look after the Professional learning needs of your staff? My first suggestion is a skills and interest audit - what do people already know and what would they like to learn more about? Where are the gaps? Ask what they would like to learn more about? Then I would look at what is available, and would do some matching. Get staff to watch one or two webinars a term and report back to the whole staff at your next staff meeting. Get one or two staff to undertake a certificate course and then share their critical learnings with other staff. Above all, don’t let staff avoid this important part of their work. As the Boarding Standard for Australian Schools and Residences requires in Section 4.3(c) “Provision of annual professional learning relevant to the role and context”.

As Craig d’cruz said in his recent article in Lights Out entitled Boarding Staff Training: An Essential Risk Control which also appeared in the weekly email School Governance published by CompliSpace during National Boarding Week said

“ If training is going to be impactful, schools need to better understand what their boarding staff really need to know, and they need to allocate a suitable budget to allow for this training to take place.”

So let’s not be the school which told ABSA they didn’t want to watch any webinars as “we are over this online stuff”, or the schools which did’t have any budget to purchase boarding professional learning - be the boarding house which leads from the front and is confident that all boarding staff meet the requirements of the standard and undergo relevant, up-to-date and on topic professional learning for their boarding role.

Wednesday 13 April 2022

How Important Can this Be?

One of the challenges in all our busy lives is the huge amounts of information we receive daily - in fact at times is can be quite overwhelming.

However, the risk in dealing with this overload is to ignore it, think it won’t be important, or think that you’ll get to it later.  One of the great skills I learnt from our Leaders Conference in Adelaide in 2019 (doesn’t that feel so long ago) was how to manage my email inbox.  Interestingly, at the time this was the second time I had undergone the ‘Email ninja’ course, but it was the one that made the difference.  Tim and Daniel taught all those in the room just how to overcome that swamping of information, and how not to miss the stuff that is important. (Interestingly they are offering the Email Ninja course to all ABSA members for free at present - send us an email if you are interested). However, it is not the course that I am promoting here, it is the fact that so many people just don’t read things properly any more, if at all.

As many of you know we produce a weekly eNEWS which highlights a few critical bits of information relevant to that week - and in tracking the opening rates we are continually distressed that our average ‘open’ rate is just over 30%, and the open rate by Heads of Boarding is still under 50%. It makes us wonder how people know what is going on if the emails aren’t even opened.

Another observation is the number of people who call to ask a simple question - one which was actually answered in the email we had sent them which prompted the call, but they hadn’t read the whole email.

Anyway - enough whinging - we are keen to hear more about how we can make our communications better - don’t be frightened - let us know!

Richard Stokes

Chief Executive Officer

Australian Boarding Schools Association