Gonski Revolution helps school

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20 September 2016

In the recently screened ABC TV series Revolution School, Kambrya College, in Berwick, on the outskirts of Melbourne, was depicted as having gone through a year of massive change. That’s part of its story, but principal Michael Muscat says it has also involved many previous years of hard work and needs-based funding.

Although the documentary showed experts from Melbourne University working intensively with Kambrya staff, the school had already been one of the fastest-improving schools in the nation after it started receiving National Partnerships funding.

“The improvement we achieved is a reflection of the incredible work our teachers have done over the past eight years,” says Muscat.

In 2008, Kambrya’s results placed it in the lowest 10 per cent of schools in Victoria, allowing it to access funding under the federal government’s National Partnerships Program (NPP) , the precursor to Gonski.

Muscat says the NPP funding was “a godsend” because it allowed him to run programs targeted at high-needs students and to hire a leadership coach and leading teachers for literacy and numeracy. Within 12 months of these changes, behaviour, attendance and attitudinal data all showed improvement.

“From 2008 to now,” says assistant principal Keith Perry, “all the key indicator data has steadily increased but more prolonged was the literacy and numeracy data, which showed sustained improvement.

“I don’t know if it fully came through [in Revolution School] that, since 2008, the school underwent a massive transition and it came through the blood, sweat and tears of the teachers, students and parents. It was not a ‘one-year revolution’ but an ongoing commitment to revolutionise our school.”

Using data to lift results

The leading teachers were in charge of professional learning teams of teachers that met weekly during the school day to look at the data and work out ways
of differentiating for their students.

“The professional learning teams didn’t really get covered in the documentary, but they were instrumental in creating a data-driven culture and gave teachers space and time to learn together,” says Perry.

Giving teachers the conditions and the support they need takes time and money, especially in schools with a significant number of disadvantaged students, says Muscat.

Gonski funding would allow Kambrya to build on all the improvements that have happened since 2008 by extending important programs, hiring more expert teachers and providing extra training for teachers in key areas, he says.

For one thing, he would like to extend the important, highly successful Accelerated Learning Program that targets Year 7 and 8 students who are operating well below their age level in literacy and numeracy. From its very first year, it achieved its goal of growing students’ literacy and numeracy at a rate three times higher than their average growth at primary school.

It’s an intensive program that puts a teacher and three teacher aides
into a classroom to focus on each student’s needs.

“That’s where we’ve pumped in the most resources,” says Muscat. “We’ve selected very capable staff to work with differentiated groups so they can give them one-on-one assistance.”

Perry says the teachers did a “fantastic job”.

“When we hosted a presentation evening with the parents at the end of Year 7 and showed them the data, they pleaded with us to continue the program.

“The kids’ learning confidence and self-esteem had grown so much that there were tears when it initially wasn’t going to continue. So we extended it into Year 8.”

Building on Gonski Success

Although this growth has been sustained over a number of years, it didn’t rate a mention in Revolution School.

Some in the media gained the impression that Melbourne University had come to the
school’s rescue and that Kambrya teachers hadn’t been using novels in the classroom prior to their intervention.

“That’s complete rubbish,” says Perry. “Of course we were reading and analysing novels as part of the English curriculum right through from Years 7 to 12.”

“Our literacy had already improved, but now the reading program is going to take it to
even greater heights,” says Muscat. “The team from Melbourne Uni came in when
a great deal of the improvement had already taken place and we were ready to grab a hold of their approaches and ideas.”

Muscat says Gonski funding would allow the school to continue to target the students most in need with the extra staffing required to deliver their highly differentiated learning programs.

“The only way to achieve that is to have expert teachers in every school and every classroom who can maximise the potential of each student. That doesn’t come on the smell of an oily rag. It needs to be resourced properly.

“Needs-based funding is an essential ingredient in lifting student achievement and building success,” Muscat says.