Human Resource Directors in Independent Schools - Future Leadership

Human Resource Directors in Independent Schools

Source: Image provided by Melbourne Grammar School

From the Head of Melbourne Grammar School, Philip Grutzner

As little as 15 years ago, Human Resource Directors were unheard of in independent schools. The HR responsibilities were usually amongst the Principal’s responsibilities. Despite their best efforts, not many Principals(Heads) were able to do this well, as they did not have the expertise, experience or time to manage the enormous number of important HR responsibilities. The consequences for these Principals and their schools were often quite significant, especially when mistakes were invariably made. 

For my first ten years as a Principal at Braemar College and then St Peter’s College, I did not have an HR Director, as we did not have the budget, or we thought at that time, the need for one. How wrong was I! For the past 13 years as the Head of St Peter’s College Adelaide, Carey Grammar and Melbourne Grammar School, I have greatly valued and enjoyed working closely with three HR Directors. They have been mission-critical for the School and my role as Principal/Headmaster. 

It was with great concern that just after my announcement as the next Head of Melbourne Grammar School in May last year, the highly regarded Melbourne Grammar School HR Director had accepted a role at another leading independent school. I can reassure you it was not because of my appointment! But after nine years at Melbourne Grammar School, she wanted new challenges and to expand her experience.

Thanks to the wise choice by my predecessor, Roy Kelley, and the expertise provide by  Fisher Leadership, Melbourne Grammar School and I have been very fortunate to employ Malcolm Leigh-Smith at such short notice. 

Malcolm and other great HR Directors and their teams will have oversight over the recruitment, induction and training of new staff. They will also manage the leave applications, payroll, file security and currency, and policy review and development.  Then there are the enormous challenges in regulation, contract law, industrial relations, staff professional development, appraisal and performance management.  It is critical that the HR Director sits on the School Executive so she or he contributes to the strategic direction of the School, important decisions, change management, policy development and cultural aspects of the School. The HR Director will work alongside each Head of Campus to empower and also enhance their leadership and management of their staff. The HR Director also supports the Head in workforce planning, annual and long-term budgeting, negotiating of enterprise agreements and conditions of employment, the appointment of senior staff, or the tough ones, – redundancy, performance management or a major breech of school policy.  

I find being the new Head in a school is a time of excitement, but also uncertainty and vulnerability as you manage the workload, learn the culture, work out how the School ticks and where the “informal” influences lie with regard to decision making and managing change. For the past nine months I have been very fortunate to work with Malcolm who has come to Melbourne Grammar School with excellent experience and knowledge and has set me up for success. Malcolm knows the special culture of independent schools, what makes them tick and what are the sacred cows.

I have enjoyed the excellent support and advice that Malcolm provides.  Many days are long and tough, more so during COVID-19. We always keep our sense of humour and sense of perspective.  I enjoy my work with Malcolm and appreciate how he and other excellent HR Directors contribute to strong, positive and high performing school cultures.  

Read our interview with Malcolm Leigh-Smith to learn more about the opportunity from his perspective.

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