Gonski drives student success


By Julieanne Wilson
Principal, Caboolture East State School

Gonski funding has helped Caboolture East turn itself into a high-achieving school with an increasing enrolment.

We’ve been given the resources to refine our teaching culture and give students the support they need to overcome barriers to learning.

Our school’s motto is: “No matter my journey, my pathway to success starts here”.

This is our daily reminder that what we do in the classroom prepares students for life and that our thinking must be long-term. We need to be setting the bar high for our students and not putting a ceiling on what they can achieve.

I have been at Caboolture East for eight years, and have seen the turnaround both in the performance and the reputation of the school.

We could not have come as far as we have without extra resources, both from the National Partnerships Program, and now through Gonski

Our school is very complex. It has 700 students in Prep to Year 6, including 105 diagnosed with disability and a similar number without a diagnosis who require extra support, as well as 110 pre-prep children enrolled in an Early Childhood Development Program on campus. We are an identified Hearing-Impaired (HI) coded school and have a high number of students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.

Being a low-SES school means we have never had the same access to other sources of funding that other schools might. Our P&C made an $800 profit the first year I was there, other schools might have $20,000. Every spare dollar had to go straight back into the school.

This is why Gonski is so important - the continuity of funding has let us develop a sustainable strategic plan for the school.  We are in control and can direct the investment into the lives of our children.

Investing in success - how we use Gonski

Our use of Gonski funding has been focused on four areas: Reading, Numeracy, Writing and “Upper Two Bands (U2B)” which enhances many of our Gifted Students.

We have successfully lifted results in all areas, and have developed new programs for the students in the top two bands in NAPLAN achievement.

For these Gifted Students we use the “Impact” program which is quite expensive to run but which has had great results. There are a lot of really bright kids in our community and we need to make sure that we acknowledge this and give them the challenges they need to extend themselves.

We are also using new approaches to literacy and numeracy and have developed a research-based reading program and writing program, designed to ensure consistency in teaching practice across the school.

In conjunction with the North Coast Region Success Team Project, our school has embedded a whole school Math Program designed around the most effective elements of teaching maths with an increased focus on problem solving and reasoning.

Overall the key to what we’ve done with Gonski is to invest in personnel. The extra funding has allowed our expert teachers to take time out of the classroom so they can share what they do, and let us employ pedagogical leaders who can raise the standard of teaching and encourage a culture of collaboration.

We now have a culture where it is normal for staff to watch each others’ lessons and learn from them, and where feedback is encouraged.

Teachers may have been cautious about this at first but now see it as a help. We are even able to run professional development sessions on weekends, staff are that keen to learn.

The quality of our staff is very high.  Any one of them could walk into a leafy green school and do well, but lots of teachers from leafy green schools would struggle here.

Student improvement is obvious

For reading and maths (and for writing from 2016), we have diagnostic tests at the start and end of each term. These results tell us how kids are doing as individuals and as a group, and help us plan for the future. Tracking this data has shown consistent improvement in every target area.

NAPLAN only measures a point in time but the vast majority of our NAPLAN data also shows that our school is consistently improving and we have seen jumps in NAPLAN data that correlate directly with our focus areas.    

With extra funding that comes to us in the next few years we want to enhance our STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering) teaching because a lot of the jobs that our kids will be going for in ten years don’t even exist yet, and a lot of them will involve STEM subjects.

As a principal of a low-SES school I’m aware that we have an essential role in showing our students what opportunities they have for their futures.

For example we work with the Queensland University of Technology’s nearby campus and have run a very successful two-day technology camp there, as well as regular visits. This is often students’ first experience of a university. I recently had a student say: “I never thought I’d go to a university but this place just fits me!”

How can we make this sustainable?

There’s a lot we’ve managed to do and a lot more that we will do if we get the full six years of Gonski funding.

Ever since we began to get extra funding through the National Partnerships Program I’ve always had in the back of my mind the question: “How do we make this sustainable?”

The answer is to invest in staff and change the culture of learning at the school. If we build the skills and capability of our people that lifts the quality of schools in the long-term. It also helps us keep great staff because we can develop their passion for teaching.

We can measure some of what we do at Caboolture East, but a lot of the rewards can’t be measured because they are about changing the lives of students and parents.

Our school is going places and the full six years of Gonski funding will help us offer even more opportunities to students as they begin their journeys.

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