In recent months we have taken part in research through the International Coalition of Girls Schools together with Challenge Success to better understand wellbeing, engagement and belonging in school environments. Whilst the broader research findings will not be known for some time, we have gained access to our own students’ data, that is de-identified, to help us respond immediately to what they say about their own school environment. Although they are a small sample of student views in a large world, to us they are our world and so this data tells many valuable stories.

In today's world, diversity and inclusion have evolved into fundamental principles that shape the very essence of our society and have become an expectation in both school and work environments. Schools play a pivotal role in instilling these values, equipping students with the skills to thrive in an interconnected and diverse global community. At Toorak College, individuality isn't merely acknowledged; it's interwoven into the school's ethos, both creating and fostering an environment where it is our intention for every individual to feel not just welcomed but valued.

Through our recent collaboration with Challenge Success we can see the top words used by our Year 7-12 students to describe their school were caring and welcoming; a perfect platform for an inclusive environment. They champion their peers for their acceptance of differences and their curiosity to learn more about where unconscious biases may exist. However, what did they think about the perceptions of the adults in their community and their respect for diversity? Does a gap exist between our students’ and our staff’s perceived level of respect for diversity? We were proud to say the answer to this was no. Less than 3% of students felt that there was a lack of respect from the adults in our environment for students from different racial backgrounds, social classes, gender identities, religions affiliations or sexual orientations. This makes our school a great platform for trusted conversations to take place.

I think this sentiment stems from the understanding that no two individuals are alike anywhere in our community, that is at the heart of inclusivity. No two Year 4 champions sprinters are alike, no two Year 7 neurodiverse students are alike, nor are any two Year 10 international students. That is the beauty of people.

“I'm not here to be small, to compare, to judge (myself or you), to fit in or to be perfect. I'm here to grow, to learn, to love, to be human.”
Sue Fitzmaurice

So, where are the small steps to start?

Championing Neurodiversity

According to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, 10% of Australian students aged 5-18 live with disabilities, spanning intellectual, physical, and psychosocial spectrums. As these statistics underscore the prevalence of diverse needs among our youth, cultivating a culture of empathy and acceptance becomes paramount. Through avenues such as open communication, comprehensive wellbeing programs, and engaging workshops, students and staff at Toorak College are educated about neurodiversity. These initiatives dismantle stereotypes, fostering empathy and inclusion. The outcome is an atmosphere where neurodiverse students are embraced for their distinct perspectives and strengths and are comfortable to share their insights with their peers.

April is Autism Awareness month and with conversation around funding and supporting neurodiverse students in the classroom being incredibly topical at the moment, we need to remember that social development is another skill that school environments can contribute to for these students. Read our ‘Neurodiversity in the Classroom’ blog to learn how we are developing these skills in young people.

Evolving Conversations on Gender Identity

In tandem with the discourse on neurodiversity, there's been a significant evolution in conversations surrounding gender fluidity. Research by the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute suggests that approximately 45,000 Australian children currently identify as transgender. Whilst society more broadly adapts to a world that is less binary, this creates significant conversations for single-sex schools, sporting organisations and other organisations that may be designed to address imbalance or minority representation. These conversations have been more broadly recognised through changes to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (Vic) that enable parents to ensure a child or young person’s gender identity is formally recognised and supported. This is where conversations begin, in conjunction with a young person and their parents, to enable young people to be their best selves.

Cultivating Cultural Understanding

One of the greatest hallmarks of the Toorak College environment is in our ability to bring together students from all around the world through access to our Boarding House. Be these students local, regional or international, our commitment to boarding creates a more linguistically and culturally diverse school environment for all students. Studies show, people living in places with more diversity experience a stronger sense of commonality than those living in less diverse places (Suttie, 2021). While not every environment can represent cultural diversity, as our school does, learning about other culture’s traditions and celebrations can be a fabulous start to building appreciation and decreasing stereotypes.

At Toorak College, we instil in our students a commitment to lifelong learning. By fostering an awareness of the world around them, students develop a profound understanding and acceptance of diversity. Drawing on insights from resources such as Be You Beyond Blue, we recognise that discussions on moral issues and exposure to diverse perspectives enable children and young people to cultivate awareness and understanding of others.

Creating a safe environment where students feel empowered to voice their opinions and perspectives is integral as we continue to uphold our obligations under the Child Safe Standards to pay particular attention to the diverse needs of vulnerable students; including students with disability, students from culturally and linguistically diverse students, students who are unable to live at home, international students, and LGBTIQA+ students. By celebrating differences and creating a culture where every individual feels valued, we not only enrich the educational experience but also pave the way for a more inclusive society.

Suttie, J. (2021). People in More Diverse Countries Are Less Prejudiced. [online] Greater Good. Available at: (n.d.). Supporting social development - Be You. [online] Available at: (n.d.). Transgender youth health - Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. [online] Available at:

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022). People with disability in Australia. [online] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Available at:

Type on the line above then press the Enter/Return key to submit a new search query