September 1

2007 National Conference: Education and the Indispensable Crown


ACM National Conference, 2007

Saturday, 25 August,2007

The Indispensable Crown:The Way Forward

The Role of Education

Gilbert Mane* 


Good afternoon, Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I should like to thank Professor Flint for inviting me to speak at this event.  My impression of Professor Flint is of a genial, good-humoured, avuncular and, I hope he will forgive me for saying this, even a grandfatherly figure.  But I have discovered when I have mentioned in passing to acquaintances that I am speaking at his invitation at this conference that he is a controversial figure who excites some extreme and I would say irrational responses.  I should like it to go on record that I have felt it my pleasant duty to correct the misapprehensions of this benighted few.


I should also say that any views expressed today are my own in my private capacity, as my Board of Governors was concerned that you might feel I am speaking on behalf of the school of which I have the honour to be Headmaster.  They know only too well my occasional propensity for speaking my mind.


I have been given a rather eclectic brief; and I hope that I can do just ice to each aspect of it.  I firstly intend to canvass for you the standard NSW primary curriculum with regard to Civics and Citizenship as it addresses the issue of government and monarchy; secondly, I will give a brief overview of how we at John Colet School cover this important topic; and thirdly, I will regale you with an account of my meeting HRH Prince Charles in Cambridge at his Summer Education Conference in 2006.

1.      Overview of the NSW K-6 curriculum for Civics and Citizenship


The school curriculum in NSW is structured around six Key Learning Areas (KLAs):  English; Maths; Science; PDHPE (Sport and Personal development); Creative Arts; and HSIE (Human Society in its Environment [which used to be Social Studies which used to be History and Geography]). 


There are four primary stages:  Early Stage One covering Kindergarten; Stage One, covering first and second class; Stage Two covering third and fourth class; and Stage Three covering fifth and sixth class.


Each KLA has several outcomes for each Stage, for a total of 316 for the whole of primary education.  These outcomes are expressed as actions which a given pupil should at the completion of a Stage be able to demonstrate.  For example a Stage Three English outcome chosen more or less at random is

 Interacts productively and with autonomy in pairs and groups of various sizes and composition, uses effective oral presentation skills and strategies and listens attentively. 

Presumably you can see the problem already, as it is inadvisable to read through the outcomes while using heavy machinery.


In theory the individual school and teacher can select any content to ensure the children achieve these outcomes and to test this achievement.  The one exception to this is the compulsory content in HSIE.  There is a perception that a certain body of content concerned with Australia’s History, Geography and Social arrangements needs to be mastered by all Australian school children.


The compulsory content relevant to Civics and Citizenship education is from the Stage Three HSIE Curriculum. In other words all NSW primary students should move into high school knowing the following:

 • rights and responsibilities of Australian citizenship and global citizenship• State and federal government structures and the relationships between them• processes by which laws are made and changed in State and federal governments• electoral processes• community, school and class decision-making and democratic processes• contributions of groups, movements, policies and laws to the development of fairness and social justice in Australia 

The relevant outcomes, which are couched in general and sometimes curiously incomprehensible terms, are


  • Explains the significance of particular people, places, groups, actions and events in the past in developing Australian identities and heritage.
  • Explains the development of the principles of Australian democracy.
  • Explains the structures, roles, responsibilities and decision-making processes of State and federal governments and explains why Australians value fairness and socially just principles.


Are you all still awake?  You can see that the very complexity and general nature of the language leaves space for any teacher to drive a coach and horses through some of these outcomes.  And I won’t take up any more of our valuable time going over the Units of Work included with the curriculum document, except to alert you to the use of the word “invasion” in relation to European discovery and settlement of Australia, and the several references to an Australian Republic in these work units.


Just to end this part of my talk on a happy note I should like to read an extract from the Commonwealth DEST website on Discovering Democracy, where it covers the Monarchy and Australian Democracy:

The powers of the monarch as head of the government were never formally taken away. It is only by convention that the monarch acts on advice of ministers. If you read our Commonwealth constitution literally, you will gain a totally wrong impression of how our government works. The monarch still appears as head of the government and there is no provision that the governor-general (the monarch’s deputy) has to act on the advice of ministers. That happens because of the conventions of the Westminster system. The monarch and those acting in place of the monarch have not lost all power. The so-called reserve powers remain. They are the powers which allow the head of state to be an umpire in times of crisis and the ultimate protector of the constitution. They are not defined in law and there is some dispute over their extent. One power that is agreed on is the right of the monarch to dismiss a government that is acting illegally or unconstitutionally. The monarch remains the guardian of the Westminster system. 

2.      A complementary model:  Civics and Citizenship as taught at John Colet School; incorporating Plato and Blackstone;


But back to those coach and horses.  Let’s have a brief look at what we at John Colet School do with Civics Education.  We start with an open ended discussion on the meaning of certain core concepts:  Justice, Law, Government.  We then consider Plato’s simple division of society into rulers, guardians and others.


We then look at Plato’s five levels of government:  aristocracy – the rule of the best; timocracy the rule of the courageous; oligarchy – rule of the wealthy; democracy – rule by the many; tyranny – rule by the one.  I usually start by asking them to brainstorm the type of person who would be the best ruler.  The children tend to find this quite easy.  As they do if asked who would be the worst type of ruler.  But when I then ask them to say who would be the second best ruler they have much more difficulty.


We then move on to consider Sir William Blackstone’s model of the Westminster system where he divides the nature of the Deity into three parts:  Glory and Power; Wisdom; and Goodness.  And he states that each of these complementary qualities is embodied in one of the three constituent parts of Parliament:  The Monarch or Crown embodies the Glory and Power of God; the House of Lords, the Wisdom of God; and The House of Commons, the Goodness of God.  He points out that Power without Wisdom or Goodness becomes tyrannical.  Wisdom without Power or Goodness is weak and cunning; and Goodness without Power or Wisdom becomes anarchic. 


While we may quibble with Blackstone’s slightly idealized view of the British constitution, it is clear that the trifold Westminster system in all its permutations – the Presidential system in the US or the Parliamentary system in the UK and Commonwealth –  bears out his analysis of a harmonious balance of forces.  And, just by the way, it makes the unicameral legislatures of Queensland, New Zealand and Israel interesting comparative case studies.


We then introduce the children to the Australian system, which has adopted the UK parliamentary model, while using the US terminology of Senate and House of Representatives.  The exception, of course, is that rather controversial term in this august company – the President.  To conclude this part of my talk we complete our program on Government by covering Federation; Federal, State and Local government; decision making systems; and the History and layout of Canberra.


Let’s move on to the real reason I’m giving this speech.


3.      “One day my Prince will come”:  An account of meeting Prince Charles at his Summer Education Conference in UK


In 2004 I was invited to contribute a chapter on the philosophy of education which underpins all we do at John Colet School, to a book entitled Education and the Ideal.  The book was intended to be a shot across the bows of post-modernism in education and the editor was able to attract such luminaries as Dame Leonie Kramer and Professor Barry Spurr to contribute as well.  I received several author’s copies of this work and they gathered dust on my shelf.


In June of 2005 my wife saw Michael Collins-Persse interviewed on TV on the occasion of his 50th year of teaching at Geelong Grammar, Timbertop.  Now he had been Prince Charles’ mentor and was still very close to him.  And during the interview he said that his advice to young teachers was to love their pupils and to give themselves to them, as it was the only thing they really had to give. 


My wife was touched by this and she wrote to him.  She spoke of our school and its ideals and she enclosed our school prospectus.  Then she felt this might look a little like a marketing exercise, so she looked around for something else to pop into the post, and saw the aforementioned dusty pile of her husband’s books.  So she asked me if she could toss one in.  As no one else seemed to be queuing up for them I was most agreeable.


A few month’s later we received a reply from Mr Collins-Persse saying some very nice things about the book and my chapter, and in which he wondered whether we knew if Prince Charles had a copy, as his birthday was coming up and he wanted to send him one as a present, and where could he get one from?  My wife and I furrowed our brows and thought long and hard and concluded that, in fact, we didn’t know whether Prince Charles had a copy, but on the whole we rather thought not.  So, a land speed record to the Post Office later, a further copy was on its way to Geelong.


After a further lapse of a few months we received a further letter from Michael Collins-Persse enclosing a copy of a letter from Prince Charles’ secretary saying how much HRH had enjoyed the book and wondering if any of the contributors would like to come to his Summer Education Conference. 


Now, not wishing to reveal confidential financial information of either a personal or school nature, suffice it to say that such an invitation, while welcome and flattering, was not practical until an extremely generous benefactor stepped in and covered the costs.  I then contacted the organizers and said we’d like to come, and could they email the details.  The reply came telling us where and when to meet etc.  I emailed back saying:  “Sorry, I wasn’t clear in my previous email.  How much?”  They then emailed back saying:  “Sorry.  They weren’t clear either.  It’s free.”  HRH and some corporate donors pay for the costs of the conference and four star accommodation in Cambridge.


To cut a moderately involved story short my wife and I found ourselves in June 2006 heading off to Cambridge.  Heaven!  There were about 180 delegate teachers at the conference.  On the first day we had to go through security and we were seated in an auditorium to hear Melvin Bragg give a lecture on the History of the English Language.  (His full title is Lord Bragg of Wigton –  and when I saw his name tag on the table I thought I’d wear it, as it seemed so much more impressive than “Gilbert Mane” – my wife who is the sensible one of the family merely gave me a quelling look). 


Before Lord Bragg spoke we were told that HRH would arrive after this lecture, we would all stand when he entered, and he would join the audience for a panel discussion on the subject of storytelling chaired by Lord Bragg with Michael Morpurgo, a children’s author, Robert Harris, novelist, and Stephen Fry, actor and author, on the panel.


When this was over HRH would leave while we stood and we would then proceed to afternoon tea in the College Hall where Prince Charles would meet us in groups.  Our name tags had letters of the alphabet and we were to get together at the appropriately labeled tables.  My wife and I were, in fact, unlabelled so in good Biblical fashion we stationed ourselves at the last table.  HRH came in and met the delegates in groups of about a dozen as he moved around the room.  And occasionally he would meet individuals or small groups in the centre of the room.  It was all very well organised.


As we were standing nervously eyeing the progress of the Prince around the hall, and trying to look cool and unconcerned, a mildly flustered minion came up to us and said:  “Are you the Australians?”  After we had pleaded guilty to this charge, she asked us to step this way as the Prince had heard we were there and was anxious and excited to meet us.  Well that made three of us. 


When we shook hands we tried to remember the rules:  Address him as Your Royal Highness the first time; and then as Sir thereafter; slight inclination of the head for chaps; curtsey for the ladies.  Then we chatted for a few minutes about my chapter, which he had obviously read and assimilated, and about the parlous state of education in UK and Australia.  And then he moved on.  Total face time:  three minutes.  And worth every hour time and effort to get there.


There are a number of things that could be said about this meeting.  He was charming, personable, open and friendly.  He has, of course, an energy and charisma which goes with the position and his own nature.  And, interestingly, the fact that my wife and I had met him never fails to spark a keen interest in everyone, including all my many republican friends.  He is also just a tiny bit shorter than we expected.


So to conclude I would like to give you a flavour of HRH’s aim and purpose of getting this, his 17th charity, established, by quoting from his speech at the conference, during which he did make mention of having guests all the way from Australia:

 He spoke of his “long-held vision of re-inspiring teachers and recapturing some of the more timeless principles of teaching”; and that “a good teacher needs to be able to create the right conditions for learning; those which spark the imagination in a way that will ignite lifelong interests”, and who “fires us with the love of his subject, but in doing so also opens our eyes to why Education matters”.  His vision for the Education Summer School came from “a strong sense that there is a need to revisit the fundamental principles that drive our Educational beliefs; to re-inspire teachers; to question the notion that equality and accessibility are best served by reducing the range and quality of work that pupils undertake and, … to put a stop to what might be termed the ‘cultural disinheritance’ that has gone on for too long.”

”Above all”, he said, “We need to begin to find ways of recreating a proper balance and harmony at the very heart of teaching.”

He was especially pleased that the fruits of the past conferences was the reintroduction in the classroom of narrative or story telling in the teaching of History and English Literature; and, of course, the reinvigoration of the teaching of Shakespeare. Past delegates were beginning to give classes the literary and historical background to texts; and were selecting more difficult authors such as Chaucer, Blake and Donne.  They weren’t afraid of challenging their students with harder material, and were encouraging the reading of good books for pleasure, whether or not they were actually in the syllabus.

I can report from first hand experience that he is committed, passionate and energised about re-establishing good sound education.  Thank you. 


*[Gilbert Mane (b. 1955) is Headmaster of John Colet School, an independent infants and primary school in Belrose, Sydney.  He was born and educated in Sydney.  He completed an Arts Law degree at UNSW in 1979.  In his Arts degree he majored in History.  He practised as a solicitor from 1980, and completed a Master of Laws degree at Sydney University in 1986. In 1989 he was asked to become Headmaster of John Colet School. He accepted the position, completed a Graduate Diploma of Education at Charles Sturt University in 1994 and, in 1999, a Certificate of Gifted Education at UNSW. He began studying with the School of Philosophy in Sydney in 1975 where he continues to both study and tutor.  He is often asked to comment on radio and at other forums on values education.  He recently contributed a chapter on education entitled In Apprehension How Like a God! in Education and the Ideal, Naomi Smith (ed)].      


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