Tom Murdoch, Head of Senior Campus

Tom Murdoch has had a first-class career in education. Starting out as an English teacher at Auckland Grammar School, he has worked at both state and independent schools, including six years at the highly regarded Reed’s School in the UK, time as a House Leader at Macleans College, and then Deputy Principal at Mount Albert Grammar, which with a roll of around 3000, is the second biggest school in the country. Now Head of Senior Campus, Tom has been part of the critical change happening at Dilworth since he started in 2022.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work in really good schools, that have been well run, with a clear vision, a strong direction and educational philosophy, where student safety has always been the priority. So I know what good looks like, and here at Dilworth we have a Headmaster in Dan Reddiex, who is leading essential change and rebuilding the school from the ground up. "We have enormous resources we dedicate to our students to help them fulfil their potential, both academically, during the school day, and more holistically in boarding. This removes so many of the obstacles to educational progress that exist elsewhere - if that doesn’t give you meaning and purpose as a teacher, you might be in the wrong profession.”

Growing up in Karori, Wellington, Tom is one of three children. His father dedicated his career to public service, and his mother to nursing. “They provided the best example we could have asked for,” Tom says, “I saw close up what it means to serve others, and I learned about what contribution and hard work look like.”

Tom holds a Bachelor of Arts (First Class, Hons), and a Masters in Secondary School Leadership, both from Victoria University. “The Masters was a practical and professional course of study that involved visiting different schools to shadow school principals. I interviewed Dan as part of the research for my thesis, about his response to COVID, what the school did and learned, and I came away impressed. The integrity and honesty he showed as he dealt with not only that crisis, but also the crisis of the abuse here in the past, made me keen to be part of this school community and the change that was being implemented.”

Tom says he didn’t come to Dilworth blindly, but willingly. He was well aware of the school’s history. “The terrible things that happened to some former students here put the school in a tenuous position,” Tom says. “But, I have faith in Dan, the Trust Board, and the leadership team. Our community has faith in our leadership, too. We’re all working with our students to provide them the highest standard of care and education.” 

In describing the ground-up rebuild of Dilworth School, Tom says the foundations have now been laid: “We’ve built really solid foundations for safeguarding, we’ve redesigned the curriculum, we have a new relationship management plan, which determines how we interact with staff and students, and a brand-new Learning in the Outdoors Curriculum. We’ve turned up the volume on personal excellence. So, every student must aspire to be the best they can be, and there’s a real onus on parents and family to try their absolute best, too.”

Tom says it’s these profound changes in the school’s systems and culture that have allowed him to get on with his job - to run the school. He has a personal philosophy and belief that creating a safe and orderly environment for students is of prime importance and says the implementation of the Child Wise programme and other initiatives taken by the school mean clear boundaries and expectations have been set. “We also have continual messaging for our students about speaking out, and an anonymous platform called STYMIE to report anything they want action on. Any complaints go directly to our Safeguarding Officer, our Head of Boarding, and other staff, including me. Our job is to respond to them quickly. It’s just one of the ways we’ve given our students a voice, and it’s something we take incredibly seriously.”

The school also does a lot of work through Ako Puāwaitanga, its “Flourishing Curriculum,” which includes students meeting with a mentor three times a week in small cohorts, and discussing any issues they might be experiencing, especially their mental wellbeing. “We’ve got a safe and secure learning environment, positive relations reinforced by our staff and student body, and the ability to speak out at any time and know that you’ll be heard and responded to quickly.”

Vitally, students’ digital intake is controlled at Dilworth. Tom: “We have an advantage with boarding, so some of the social pressures students face around their communities are mitigated. They don’t have their phones throughout the day, we have a digital detox at lunchtime, so they’re not on their devices then either. We have compulsory sport, so every student has to participate at some level, learn key skills like teamwork and resilience, and get that sense of achievement and positive endorphin hit that comes from sport. Whether it’s badminton, tennis, rock climbing, swimming, rugby, football, basketball, or anything else we offer. We also have a huge advantage in that social media platforms are blocked inside the school system. We do everything we can to help them switch off and seek challenge in the real world.”

The students are also expected to participate in cultural and extracurricular activities. There are nine student committees, covering everything from boarding and faith, to academics, music, and sport. There are also many different cultural clubs. “Every boy from every background has the opportunity to show pride in that. And that’s a critical part of wellbeing. We are seeking to create a powerful sense of belonging in our students, underpinned by a higher purpose. These are things our boys must have if they’re going to be safe, secure, and develop properly into the men of good character imagined by James and Isabella Dilworth - which is men who are ready to contribute to society.”

Every student is also taught at least one musical instrument and is expected to sing. The school has an extensive music programme, with a dedicated Director of Performing Arts, Director of Instrumental Music, and a Director of Choral Music. “Music is an agent of social mobility. It provides spiritual and intellectual insight. Why wouldn’t we want these boys to access all the things that come with that? Music helps equip them with a deep and innate knowledge of the human condition and allows them to take this understanding and appreciation with them wherever they go.”

Academic excellence is also expected. Tom says New Zealand’s educational expectations have been set too low. “High expectations mean walking peer to peer with top schools – with the Diocesan girls over the fence, with the Auckland Grammar boys down the road, with Kings, with Saint Peters. We’re probably in the most competitive educational three-square kilometres in the country. So, we’re setting standards and establishing practices that are informed by international best practice. And I think that’s what success looks like, our students knowing that they are receiving a top-quality education and competing proudly on the national and world stage.”

Tom says the expectations are high, and they should be. “Not only are you expected to give your best, but you’re also expected to contribute, and to belong to the community – and that teaches you how to be a good human, to work with your peers, and to have a good system of values that are outside of yourself. Our school values are truly lived here.”