Dan Reddiex, Headmaster

Dilworth School is one of the largest boarding schools in Australasia. Now also offering a day school option for Years 7 and 8, with junior, senior, and outdoor campuses across three locations, and approximately 500 students, all on fully-funded scholarships, it stands alone in the New Zealand educational landscape for both its model and the opportunities it seeks to provide its students. 

Headmaster Dan Reddiex is an education expert and reformer who leads a team of more than 200 people in their committed effort to realise the dream of Dilworth’s founders, James and Isabella Dilworth.  

“James’ will states the vision of the school is to provide students with the maintenance, education, and training needed to enable them to become good and useful members of society,” Dan says. “That remains our purpose, mission, and realising this underpins my mandate for transformational change.”  

Joining the school at a pivotal moment, just as the truth about historical abuse was fully emerging, Dan committed himself and the school to profound, ground-up change. “What happened to those students in the past was a travesty. My job is to make sure that students today are safe, happy, and secure, so they can flourish in all areas of their lives. Meeting with former students who were abused and hearing their stories has been completely heart-breaking. It has reached and affected me to my core. But, it has also built an absolute commitment and conviction for us to create the systems, structures, and culture that mean it can never, ever happen again.”  

The process of reconciling with the truth has been personally confronting, Dan says. “Seeing how people who were trusted could break that trust, and becoming intimately acquainted with that kind of evil, that’s what has affected me the most. My hope is that by being involved, both for me personally and the school and through committing to the process honestly and meaningfully, we can maybe be a part of the healing, for some. We’re willing to help in whatever capacity we can.”  

Dan has been an advocate of change. Firstly he asked the Trust Board for carte blanche to implement the needed changes, for which he received 100% support. He then set about “Resetting and rebuilding the  entire school.” The decision for what that would look like was made with the students at the very centre, and with a passionate desire to honour the mission James and Isabella Dilworth had laid out in 1906. This work started with wide consultation with the school’s communities, the agreement on one, unified set of values for all three campuses, and foundational thinking about safety, and how it would be implemented.  

Dan: “We couldn’t find a safeguarding system we thought was best practice in New Zealand, which is why we went to Australia and found Child Wise. Over the next two years, Child Wise completed an extensive review of our safeguarding culture and practices. All of the recommendations falling out of that review have been implemented and the transformation in the safeguarding culture around students has been phenomenal. In September 2022, Dilworth became the first school in New Zealand to have Child Wise accreditation, and these learnings and systems are now part of our DNA. We have absolutely embraced them, I would say, at a molecular level.” 

Dan is quick to credit his leadership team and the school’s staff with buying-in to the new standards around student safety, and the new culture it requires. “My leadership team is remarkable. I have a strategic leadership team of 16 who are experts in their fields. They have a tremendous work ethic and a heart for this place. As a team, we work really well together. We’re really cohesive. There’s robust debate.  But there’s really no dispute about where we’re headed, or what we’re trying to do, which is to achieve an absolutely world class school in every regard.”  

So, what about academic excellence? “We do really well in terms of our NCEA pass rates. But for me, that’s not the standard. Our students never go to class or school hungry; their attendance is almost 100%, and they’re in an average class size at Senior Campus of around 14. It costs the school $50,000 a year to educate, house and feed every student, which is a scholarship entirely paid for by Dilworth. For me, passing is the minimum expectation. Academic ability is not an entry requirement, but for those students capable of excellence and really stretching themselves, it is an expectation. We’ve made progress, and our results are getting better. There has been a change in the culture, and we’re shifting to a critical mass of students now asking themselves, ‘Why wouldn’t I be the best version of me? Why wouldn’t I try as hard as I can?’  Striving for personal excellence in our students is just a non-negotiable for me.”  

It’s a standard the school has set for itself and for every student who goes there - every student plays a sport, learns an instrument, and participates in extracurricular activities. As well as academia, there is a “Boarding Curriculum” that helps prepare the students for life after school by ensuring everyone graduates with a driver’s licence, knows how to change a flat tyre, is financially literate, and is ready to participate in wider society as a contributor of real value.  

“This is not a place to come and be mediocre,” Dan says, “or a place to cruise. It’s a place to come and work, where students can have their lives transformed. That’s why we look for students of good character, from families of good character, made up of people who care. We are looking for aspirational young men, who will make the most of the extraordinary opportunities the school presents.”

Dan says far more New Zealanders fit the criteria for Dilworth than they realise. “Families who want the very best for their sons but can’t necessarily provide for it themselves. It may be for financial reasons or circumstantial ones, which means they can’t provide the opportunities we can. A lot of New Zealanders can’t provide what we do. There are just physical limitations on what they can do as parents. That’s why we consider every case on its needs and its merits.”  

Looking at Dilworth School now, Dan says he’s filled with optimism about the cultural changes the school has undergone, but there is still a lot to do. “It’s about continuous improvement in every aspect.”  

He also recognises it may be difficult for some former students who were abused to see the school now promoting itself. “We want to give our current and future students the best experience they can possibly have. But we’re not removing the past from our consideration or decision-making as we move forward. I want them to understand it’s quite the opposite - their experience informs what we are doing now.”  

Dan says our commitment for the next generation of potential students is to be the safest and best education available in New Zealand: “What’s coming next is tremendous. So come, be a man of great values, work really hard, then go and effect change in your life beyond. James and Isabella Dilworth’s intention was for our students to be good and useful members of society. So it’s a contribution beyond Dilworth we’re really driving for.”