Templestowe College is a high school in Victoria where education is being pushed in a wildly different direction. It’s a place where gaming is encouraged and there is a classroom dedicated to reptiles, birds and tropical fish.

When principal Peter Hutton took over, the school had less than 350 students and was struggling to get enrolments. Within a few years the numbers doubled and the school has since been making headlines for its unique approach to education.

One of the first things Hutton did was survey the students about what they most wanted to study.  The most popular answers were computer game development and animal studies.

The college then promptly introduced a gaming design subject as part of a partnership with La Trobe University. Two large sections of the school were also converted to farmlands, housing an alpaca, chickens and goats, plus the reptile room.

But the school isn’t just for these two niche areas of interest. Essentially, students can pursue anything they want through the high school. Principal Hutton told The Age in 2014, “Basically that’s a rule where any student, staff or parent suggestion has to be answered ‘yes’ unless it’s basically going to take too much time, too much money or negatively impact on somebody else.”

There are no compulsory subjects after year 7, students have more than 120 electives available to them and there are no year levels. Instead of dividing the students by their age, students are paired with those who are at a similar level to them within each subject.

Hutton recently told 60 Minutes, “It seems crazy that we group students solely by their year of manufacture. So that… just… the date of their birth determines who they should be learning with.”

But one of the most headline-worthy initiatives was when the school gave students the option to scrap the ATAR completely. Instead, they formed a partnership with Swinburne University whereby students can apply for any undergraduate course on offer based on other measures of their skills. Instead of ATAR, they’re graded on leadership, interpersonal ability and “grit”.

When Hutton was justifying the program to The Age, he took a bit of a swipe at the ATAR system, saying, “We can’t afford to have a system where half the kids come out knowing their ATAR score is less than 50. While that doesn’t define them as a failure in our mind, we, as a society, consider them a failure.”

This kind of talk was bound to raise a few eyebrows, and 60 minutes was prompted to ask Hutton is he’s a radical. He told them, “Radical is a bit too strong. I’m significantly dissatisfied with the way traditional education works.”

And it seems that he speaks for a lot of people (us included).

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