Western Port Secondary College (WPSC) is a dynamic learning community located on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. With a smaller cohort of approximately 580 students, the WPSC ethos is based on staff, students and parents working together to provide the best possible curriculum in a safe and welcoming environment.
WPSC is an inclusive learning environment supporting students with disabilities and other educational needs across the socioeconomic spectrum. More than half of WPSC students come from families in the lowest quartile of the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage. Additionally, there is a significant spread of student abilities.
Many students start at WPSC below the expected level. A major challenge for the college is how to bridge the achievement gap between Years 7 and 9, setting students up to excel in a senior certificate and post-secondary pathway. Their current strategic plan focuses on embedding improvements in literacy and numeracy outcomes with high quality teaching, learning and wellbeing practices.
The school saw SVA Bright Spots Schools Connection (The Connection) as an opportunity for senior leaders to learn from Victorian and interstate colleagues, subject matter experts and thought leaders. This partnership supported improvements in middle leadership and teacher practice, enabling students in Years 7 to 9 to have the best possible learning experience.
What happened during the project?
Key activities included building teacher capacity by providing staff with a sequence of professional learning around themes of literacy and relationships, as well as redeveloping a more strengths-based and improvement-focused classroom observation process.
The school increased the level of behaviour and wellbeing support. Students with additional support needs were linked to external providers, WPSC initiated a School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support framework, and alternative education settings were established for students with problematic behaviour to create a more productive learning environment for all students.
The consistency of teaching and learning was improved by developing a school-wide instructional model. Additionally, the Quicksmart literacy and numeracy intervention program was implemented to support automaticity in students well behind expected levels.
To improve data analysis, WPSC created a dedicated Assistant Principal portfolio to lead the literacy and numeracy review, developed the way NAPLAN and PAT data is used in the school, and implemented teacher modelling and coaching for Year 7 to 9 student literacy and numeracy improvement.
Visits to US schools in 2017 with The Connection International Exploration (CIE) tour also led to the development of the Learning Guarantee Project (LGP) and the Whetstone coaching/observation platform. The LGP is a longitudinal intervention program providing targeted educational interventions and ‘wrap around’ support to students beginning in Year 4 to ‘guarantee’ they meet the age-expected level by Year 10.
What changed for the students?
Professional learning, coaching and curriculum planning is more focused through a clear and well-understood instructional model. This means that students experience consistent routines and processes in their classes. Additionally, teachers can more effectively collaborate, coach and support one another with improving teaching practice.
Teachers have a better understanding of how to use student achievement data to design and deliver point-of-need learning programs. As a result, students are not relearning material they have already mastered, or struggling with work that is too difficult.
Classrooms are calmer and more productive. Student behaviour now has less negative impact on student learning. This is seen both anecdotally through teacher observation and through improvements in the student Attitudes to School Survey (AtoSS). The Classroom Behaviour domain (covering attitudes of respect, attention and classroom management) has moved from the 35th percentile statewide in 2017 to the 77th percentile in 2019.
The school has seen outstanding improvements in student achievement and growth in the past three years. There has been significant development in NAPLAN growth data at Year 9. The number of students in the ‘high relative growth’ NAPLAN cohort has grown from:
- 15% (2016) to 35% (2019) in Year 9 Numeracy
- 14% (2016) to 22% (2019) in Year 9 Reading
- 6% (2016) to 33% (2019) in Year 9 Spelling
- 14% (2016) to 24% (2019) in Year 9 Grammar and Punctuation.
Since starting at Western Port Secondary College in Year 7, I’ve seen a real change in the way teachers support and challenge us to do our best. Classes are much calmer now and there is a clear structure that enables us to learn. I will complete year 12 next year and want to become a police officer – the school has really set me up well to do this
Where to next?
To date, WPSC has had a haphazard approach to student voice and leadership with differing levels of effectiveness across the school. As staff look to embed cultural changes, WPSC will actively ensure that students have a voice in this improvement journey. The school is undergoing reform to create a more consistent approach to student leadership structures; to deliver purposeful professional development around incorporating student voice into the classroom; and to create a shared responsibility/accountability for student agency.
Previously, WPSC has not had a clear model of professional inquiry to support teacher-collaboration. At the 2018 Thought Leadership Gathering in Sydney, WPSC leaders saw Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert present their ‘spirals of inquiry’ approach to professional inquiry. A key priority for WPSC in the next 12 months is to adapt the spirals framework to develop a robust model for unpacking improvements needed in curriculum, planning and assessment.
The leadership team will review the timetable and meeting planner before the 2021 school year looking for opportunities to restructure professional learning. From collaboration with other schools in The Connection network, WPSC learned creative timetabling can provide teachers professional learning opportunities when they are most receptive (i.e. not at the end of a school day). Learning and collaborating in flexible and remote ways using technology also helps with this.
WPSC learned that the following were important to success:
- An orderly learning environment – A major precursor to lifting student literacy and numeracy outcomes has been the improvement in classroom behaviour at the school supported by the School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support program and the pastoral care role taken on by leading teachers.
- Data literacy – Improving the way teachers collect, analyse and use student achievement data relies on teachers’ data literacy. Modelling and coaching have been important in up-skilling teachers in how to use data to inform their teaching and meet students at their point of need.
- Trust – The success of coaching, mentoring and development practices by school leaders relies on those leaders being able to build relational trust with their teams. This enables them to have difficult conversations about performance and push teachers to continually improve their practice.
- Co-design – For staff to buy-in and commit to changes in policies and practices it’s important that they play a central role in defining problems and designing solutions. WPSC found that this co-design approach is crucial in building internal commitment in staff to carry out the improvement practices.
These elements led to the school developing a more sophisticated understanding of the problem they were trying to solve. They learnt that sustaining improvements in literacy and numeracy isn’t as simple as buying the right program – it requires an ongoing commitment to supporting professional learning and practice improvement at all levels of the school. Up-skilling middle leaders in coaching, staff development and data literacy were the key to lifting practice across the whole school. Sustained improvement takes time and continuous effort, not ‘set-and-forget’ practices.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal Chris Quinn
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
We’ve found real value in the ongoing relationships we’ve built with leaders from other Victorian and interstate schools working in similar contexts. Through The Connection, open and trusting relationships with other participants are a given and this allows for candid sharing and collaboration that nurtures real learning.
We’ve been able to draw on this network for support weeks, or even months after starting an initiative, when the inevitable challenges of implementation arrive, and we expect the productive partnerships we have formed with schools to continue beyond the completion of the project.
The regular visits from The Connection team have also provided us with opportunities to troubleshoot problems and receive coaching on program design and delivery from people with great expertise.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
While visiting Canada and the US with the Connection International Exploration tour in 2017, school leaders were introduced to the Whetstone Education coaching program. WPSC is the first Australian school to use this program and it has become a central element of our instructional coaching framework.
The program allows us to capture real-time classroom evidence and use this to engage teachers in reflective conversations around areas of practice they want to improve. The partnership with Whetstone and collaboration with the team in New Orleans has allowed us to learn how some leading charter school systems in the US use coaching to improve teacher practice. This has shaped our approach to coaching.
Contribution of another school to your journey
WPSC has created a strong connection with Wirreanda Secondary College in SA, identifying early key similarities in school contexts and learnings that would benefit both schools. Three inter-school visits have already occurred, with another planned in late 2019. Leadership will explore areas they have identified an interest in, and WPSC leaders from key school areas that may benefit will visit Wirreanda in early 2020. This is a very positive connection between school principals, which will continue well beyond The Connection.
Additionally, WPSC has impacted on other schools, as exemplified by the following quote from Gareth Smith, Principal, Casula High School, NSW:
“Our partnership with Western Port Secondary College has changed the way we approach data walls and track student progress. We have gained insight on the effectiveness of using learning teams for Years 7 and 8. We have implemented data team meetings that evaluate PAT data results and plan future directions to support student progress. All because of what we saw at Western Port.”