Situated in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, Parafield Gardens High School caters to the learning needs of 1000 students from diverse backgrounds. The school serves a local area with seven feeder primary schools and is experiencing growth in new enrolments each year. By 2022 enrolments are expected to rise to 1200 and by 2025 they are forecast to reach 1600.
Parafield Gardens HS has an ICSEA of 946 and the student population is comprised of 42 cultural backgrounds, with 300 students identifying as LBOTE. There are currently 51 students of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, 97 NEP students, and more than 30 classified as new arrivals to Australia.
The school’s teaching staff represent every career stage from graduate to lead teachers, with a range of teaching experience and expertise. With a commitment to continual professional learning, they work to encourage every student to establish goals and live the school values of respect, achievement and determination in a supportive, inclusive and caring school community.
Leaders at Parafield Gardens HS recognised that the current emphasis on content-driven curriculum would not sufficiently prepare students for an increasingly unpredictable future. They believed that by fostering students’ core dispositions for learning and metacognitive skills they would give them the best chance of leading successful and fulfilling lives.
This thinking saw the school embark on a three-year journey towards developing student self-efficacy, better preparing the students in their charge to take responsibility for their learning, build their confidence as learners and embrace future challenges.
What happened during the project?
Initially, work focused on developing critical and creative thinking (CCT) and metacognition for learners. To do so, school leaders investigated pedagogical styles, they looked at how data was used and went backwards to understanding improvement cycles. This led to discussion about differentiation and branched sideways to focus on building capacity in CCT and student voice, before leaders acknowledged this was ill defined. They then went into assessment design. This was all good work, but they realised the significant spread of their intent.
Towards the end of 2016, when leaders brought this preliminary work together, they realised that in order to achieve their goals they needed to build middle leaders to drive teaching and learning. As a result, they developed an explicit pedagogy plan for them.
Meetings were restructured to empower rather than administer and the school invested heavily in building middle leadership to lead them to what they termed a ‘’futures-oriented learning” focus.
They reduced investment in “reactive” salaries i.e. behaviour management staffing, which included removing the time out room (much to the consternation of the staff who thought the world would fall in – but it didn’t). They then put this into “proactive salaries” i.e. pedagogical middle leadership staffing as champions of improved practice.
The following drivers were developed in order to foster learner self-efficacy and build common understanding at the site:
- A pedagogy plan for the school to be developed with learning area coordinators
- A concerted focus on highlighting the general capabilities within learning tasks, as well as knowledge
- The publication of an individual “capabilities compass” to showcase personal learning, strategies used to succeed and highlight skills students now possess
- The development of an HR profile, including leadership roles, that supports the implementation of the pedagogy plan with the aim of maximising learner self-efficacy.
What changed for the students?
Over the course of three years, common understanding has been reached across the site leadership team to define what self-efficacy is. A whole-school pedagogy plan has been created and walked through with the leadership team to guide the teaching and learning processes in classrooms. The capabilities compass is to be revamped and used as a tool to showcase general capabilities learning across subjects studied.
Parafield Gardens HS provided resourcing of middle managers to improve their knowledge and understanding of pedagogical approaches to learning. This has led to an agreed Site Improvement Plan that focuses on quality teaching and learning.
Leaders are confident they are on the right track in terms of their improvement journey. Already the school has seen improved student engagement, with learning outcomes increasing across all year levels as they refine their system, policies and approaches to teaching and learning. This includes significantly improved SACE results in the last 12 months. Students are better able to articulate what they’re learning, why they’re learning it and where they’re going next.
Further, there has been a dramatic reduction in behavioural incidents. The $450,000 saved by the removal of the time out room has been put into engaging learning design.
Where to next?
Reflecting on their initial plan and work to date, school leaders considered the need for better clarity. This involved formulating a conceptual framework to more clearly guide their leadership work in curriculum and pedagogy.
With the leadership team they unpacked the following ‘thinking challenges’:
- What pedagogies build learner self-efficacy?
- What role do middle leaders play in this?
- How do the general capabilities support student engagement and their ability to show the quality of their learning?
Futures-oriented learning became the focus of this framework with the centrepiece articulating their desire to develop ‘confident learners’. They then teased out earlier conversations into a new three-year vision for the school.
Having converged their thinking they have decided that from here they will focus on:
- Curriculum with an emphasis placed on capabilities as well as knowledge
- Teacher practice that develops metacognitive skills (based on a consistent, whole-school pedagogy plan).
Parafield Gardens HS learned the following were important to success:
- Structural shifts – Aligning enablers for change was crucial, for example finances and resource drivers, creating time, hiring the right people, having a plan, developing the networks, creating the accountabilities and celebrating success.
- Common vision – Developing a common understanding of what they sought to achieve, and why, laid the groundwork for success. Likewise, to secure staff buy-in this needed to be supported by a narrative of change, which the leadership team began to develop in the early stages.
- Patience and persistence – It’s necessary to go backwards sometimes, in order to go forward i.e. go back to address the roadblock, rather than go around it.
- Collaboration – Collaboration can be a very beneficial way to glean ideas and view approaches and provides two-way support. Leadership development at Parafield Gardens HS involved 15 leaders giving input to generate ideas.
- Pedagogy plan – This was used as a common approach to teaching and learning for all learning areas, providing a consistent method of guiding improved practice and processes across the whole site.
- Clear staff roles – These were defined to provide leadership to developing student’s ability to showcase their ‘General Capabilities’.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal Martin Lippett
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
The partnership with SVA has given us the opportunity to build our project skills, to work with like schools beyond traditional geographic boundaries and to experience a new way of networking with other schools and education experts. Being part of The Connection has ensured quality time to focus on improvement work beyond our Department for Education (DfE) partnerships.
It has been especially productive due to the quality of the partnership members, particularly around their approaches to leadership, thinking and innovation. The same can be said for the speakers and guests we are able to hear, and the frameworks put together for mutual learning.
The knowledge SVA brings and the expertise of SVA leaders has been of great benefit to us, as has SVA’s ability to attract funding partners.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
We have linked up with Val Westwell, via Brenton Wilson in the DfE, to work on our pedagogy plan and how we teach more intentionally. We want to establish a partnership with Martin Westwell, SACE Board of SA, and Elizabeth Hartnell to teach and assess the general capabilities.
Contribution of another school to your journey
The SA Hub schools have contributed to our school’s growth journey. Throughout our SVA involvement and while sharing ideas with other SA Hub school leaders, we have continued to refine our thinking, gleaned ideas, shared approaches and resources to similar challenges and celebrated the success of others.
SA Hub schools Craigmore High School and Murray Bridge High School have influenced our work around the General Capabilities. They had a sharing culture and could see our collaboration as an opportunity for them too.