Henrietta Cook and Konrad Marshall explain how a simple haircut – and 21st century-style people power – helped a school community find its voice and teach its governing council a harsh lesson.
Clutching a pair of scissors, deputy headmaster Rohan Brown saunters across the sunny courtyard towards the year 10 boy. It’s February 1, the first day of the 2018 school year, and the students of Melbourne’s Trinity Grammar School have gathered to have their school photos taken. About 80 boys in murky green, gold-trimmed blazers giggle and watch on as the 15-year-old tilts forward a little, hands in his shorts pockets, while the towering Brown cleaves an inch or two from his blond fringe. One of the boys whips out his phone to catch the moment on video.
Snip snip snip.
With these three swift clicks of the shears, the private Anglican boys school in upper-class Kew is thrust into the national spotlight. Over the coming weeks the “incident” will become an administrative calamity and public-relations crisis. The haircut will lead to the most chaotic chapter in the school’s 115-year history, triggering Brown’s dismissal, student protests to bring him back, and a community meeting at which more than 1500 disgruntled parents and alumni will call for principal Dr Michael Davies and the entire school council to resign.
But this is far from just a story about a haircut. It’s also a story of the inevitable tension between powerful school councils and the communities they serve. Should a school pursue a change agenda it thinks will benefit the community of tomorrow if the community of today – and yesterday – isn’t happy about it? To what extent should today’s students and parents dictate the direction in which a school heads?
It’s also a story about the ongoing struggle at schools everywhere between pursuing academic success and the health and happiness of their charges. And finally, it’s about people power, 21st-century style: how a group of children and their parents used a combination of traditional and social media to force those at the top of their institution to listen.
Photograph by Simon Schluter