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Malcolm Turnbull’s daughter in mix for top Cranbrook job as parents fume over school scandal

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Leadership jostles at top school Cranbrook have caused parents of students at the school fume.
Leadership jostles at top school Cranbrook have caused parents of students at the school fume. Credit: Supplied

Parents at one of Australia’s most expensive and elite schools have reacted with fury at the sudden departure of Cranbook principal Nicholas Sampson amid speculation a former prime minister’s daughter could be headed for the $800,000-a-year top job that comes complete with a free home overlooking Sydney Harbour.

Social media chats among parents ‘lit up’ on Friday morning after the departure of Mr Sampson, who has headed the school since 2012 and whose conduct was the target of an ABC Four Corners episode on Monday.

Many parents were also concerned their children faced another chaotic period, with Mr Sampson’s shock resignation coming after a bruising battle over co-education that became a public airing of the culture wars involving some of Australia’s biggest names and sparked a mass resignation from the Cranbrook school board.

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Mr Sampson quit after he was confronted by the school board about allegations he was aware for some years that a current male Cranbrook teacher had allegedly sent multiple sexually graphic emails to a former female student at a school where he previously worked.

These allegations were not part of the ABC expose, but they shared similarities with accusations it canvassed, including that he had allowed an accused pedophile to keep his teaching job for almost a year at Victoria’s Geelong Grammar after learning of the claims against him.

“Late yesterday, the current Cranbrook School Council became aware for the first-time of allegations of an extremely concerning past conduct matter involving a current Senior School teacher at Cranbrook,” said a statement sent by the head of the school council to parents on Friday morning.

“The allegations do not involve past or present Cranbrook students. The Senior School teacher involved was immediately placed on leave pending the School’s further assessment of the matter. The circumstances of the matter and subsequently Mr Sampson’s failure to disclose the matter to the current School Council in the context of this week’s ABC Four Corners broadcast, have led to an irrevocable breakdown of trust between the Headmaster and the School Council.

“The School Council communicated this to Mr Sampson and this morning received his resignation.”

Cranbrook Principal Nicholas Sampson has stepped down.
Cranbrook Principal Nicholas Sampson has stepped down. Credit: Cranbrook School

The furore sparked frustration and anger from current Cranbrook parents and came after a tumultuous period for the school, which has seen clashes between influential and high profile parents over plans for the 100 year old Eastern Suburbs institution to move to co-education.

We don’t pay $45,000 a year to have a group of people, without kids at the school, make war upon each other.

Billionaire Atlassian founder Scott Farquar was the most public face of the controversial push to allow girls into the school and Daisy Turnbull, daughter of former PM Malcolm, is Cranbrook’s director of co-education after being poached from prominent eastern suburbs girls school, St Catherine’s, where she was head of wellbeing.

Some parents speculated that Ms Turnbull was a potential successor for the position of principal, to which Cranbrook’s junior school head, Michele Marquet has been appointed in an interim capacity.

“She has Malcolm’s genes doesn’t she?” one parent joked when asked if Ms Turnbull was in the mix for the role.

“But it’s an $800k per year job with a house in Bellevue Hill. They will have a queue of applicants.”

Amid the fallout from the ABC report, Ms Turnbull on Thursday night wrote to parents explaining why the school had decided to cancel a planned International Women’s Day breakfast on Friday.

“I recognise it seems strange to write about IWD when we made the decision to postpone our breakfast, but we did not want recent media attention to overshadow what has been a very well thought out celebration of the women who make Cranbrook and educating our current students,” she said.

She said IWD was “an important day in the calendar” but “IWD should be more than a day too.”

Cranbrook’s preschool is already co-ed and the senior school will include girls in Years 7 and 11 from 2026. The move has been echoed by other prominent Sydney boys schools, such as Newington College, at which the parents and ‘old boys’ have engaged in messy public ‘culture war’ debates.

“It’s an unalleviated debacle,” one parent of a senior school student told The Nightly about Mr Sampson’s hasty departure.

“We don’t pay $45,000 a year to have a group of people, without kids at the school, make war upon each other.”

Another parent said they had been “underwhelmed” by the ABC report, which had conflated the behaviour of boys at the school with the actions of its leadership.

“The losers here are the kids. The ABC has demonised them and their school. They are proud of their school,” the senior school parent said.

“This whole kerfuffle around the switch to co-ed has been a distraction that they didn’t deserve.”

Parents of Year Twelve boys, who pay up to $48,000 a year for tuition, were particularly upset by the chaotic development with social media chats slamming it as a “disaster”.

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