Shaping the care of students in boarding schools

For 40 years, Richard Stokes (BA ’80, DipEd ‘81) has helped shape the care of students within Australia’s boarding schools.

When Richard first took part-time work in the boarding house at Immanuel College in Adelaide, while studying his teaching diploma at Flinders University, there were no national standards of care and no lines of communication or collaboration between boarding houses at Independent, Catholic or state schools.

This all changed when– in his first job after graduating, running the boarding house at St Peters Lutheran College in Brisbane – Richard began to assemble a cluster of peers within south-east Queensland and called their group the Boarding School Staff Association.

Their ideas to build professional learning opportunities and best practice guidelines grew into the Australian Boarding Schools Association (ABSA), for which Richard has been Executive Director/CEO for the past 15 years. For the past decade the Association has recorded 100 per cent membership of boarding schools throughout Australia.

Critically, during this time Richard spent five years preparing the national boarding standards, which were introduced for the first time in 2015.

Richard says key improvements achieved by the Association were driven by the high level of training introduced to boarding house staff. This also resulted in heightened professional recognition of the 4,000 staff currently working in Australian boarding schools.

The ABSA Training Academy now provides training programs to advance the professional development of at least 1,000 boarding house staff each year. These training courses cover every aspect of duty of care for boarding house staff – from critical response to emergencies, security, workplace health requirements and mental health assistance for teenagers, through to Child Protection Reporting.

The significance of this work has been recognised internationally, with Richard providing training to boarding administrators in other countries.

“Incredibly, many of these aspects – which seem so fundamental – are not requirements at school boarding facilities in many other countries,” says Richard. “What we have achieved to standardise these practices in Australia is held up as a model by many other countries.”

Delivery of these professional resources through the ABSA Training Academy has changed significantly since the onset of COVID-19. Where Richard previously spent up to 150 days a year travelling to deliver courses and seminars, the introduction of effective online training delivery has streamlined and escalated the uptake of courses, which is now augmented by delivery of a Master’s Degree in Residential Education.

Richard Stokes received a 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award for his distinguished leadership within the boarding school industry through the creation of the Australian Boarding Schools Association. Read more on the Flinders University Alumni Awards

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