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New project to lift student learning in needy schools


New project to lift student learning in needy schools

A new research partnership aims to improve teaching quality, support teacher wellbeing, and build positive school cultures, ultimately to lift student achievement and improve equity.

The three-year ‘Thriving Schools’ project, which brings together the University of Newcastle’s Teachers and Teaching Research Centre (TTRC) with 24 public schools across NSW, is centred on the award-winning Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR) program.

Led by Dr Drew Miller, the new $4.3M project, funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation and supported by the NSW Department of Education, builds on a prior five-year collaboration and follows findings that the QTR program significantly enhances student achievement as well as teaching quality, morale, efficacy, collaboration, and school culture.

A low-cost approach to effective school reform

TTRC Director, Laureate Professor Jenny Gore AM, said the research showed that QTR offered

a powerful, low-cost, and effective approach” to achieving Australia’s educational reform ambitions.

“The broad, positive impacts of QTR make it uniquely appropriate for tackling the challenges of lifting outcomes and promoting both equity and excellence in Australian education,” Professor Gore said.

University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Professor Alex Zelinsky AO noted the impact QTR is having nationally and in local communities.

“The University of Newcastle has a long and proud history championing equitable outcomes and supporting students from all backgrounds,” he said. “We are grateful for the ongoing support from the Paul Ramsay Foundation in realising these shared ambitions.”

Paul Ramsay Foundation CEO Kristy Muir said that she was excited by the potential that Thriving Schools would bring to children and young people in the identified 25 schools.

“We know that all children and young people deserve to have what they need to thrive, especially in a school setting. The QTR collaboration was ambitious in its aims, and thanks to the trials, we now know that it can work for Australia’s young students,” Muir said.

“At PRF, we’re really excited about the potential QTR has, to translate to better outcomes for the young people we care about most.”

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said Thriving Schools supports the wider objectives of the Plan for NSW Public Education.

“Through the Plan for NSW Public Education we are committed to delivering outstanding leadership, teaching and learning. High quality research that can be used by our teachers and schools is essential to drive improvement across the system,” Dizdar said.

“We hope this partnership will help us gather evidence and develop resources for our teachers to build on explicit teaching strategies that motivate, engage and improve learning for our students.”  

Cessnock High School: A compelling case study

In late 2020, he University and Cessnock High School launched a four-year partnership that provided a model for the new Thriving Schools project.

As one of the most socio-educationally disadvantaged schools in the Hunter region, Cessnock was an optimal case study to test the effectiveness of the project. In 2023, the school ranking first in the Hunter region and 11th overall in the state for their growth in NAPLAN results from Year 7 to 9.

Cessnock students’ HSC results also improved by more than 50% in 2022 – a result that was replicated in 2023.

Student attendance and engagement were also up, having grown 7% – triple the average across the state, while positive behaviour referrals improved a staggering 130% in 2023, in stark contrast to negative behaviours, which the school said have “significantly decreased.”

Program keeps teachers focused on what matters

Dr Drew Miller said a whole-school approach to QTR “enables schools to keep a clear focus on teaching and learning despite the other matters that demand their attention.”

“The core business of teachers is teaching and learning. However, in these more complex schools, teachers’ energies are often channelled in many directions which limits the time they have to focus on high-quality classroom practice,” Dr Miller said.

“Our research shows that supporting school leaders with tailored whole-school implementation of QTR to suit their needs and providing additional support to teachers undertaking the program, can have dramatic effects on student outcomes as well as improving behaviour, attendance, teacher retention and wellbeing.”

Dr Miller said an important benefit of QTR is that it works alongside existing teaching strategies or subject-specific programs to enhance the underlying quality of the teaching, noting this is why the program has shown to have such a positive impact on learning.

A whole-of-community approach

Cessnock High School Principal Peter Riley said the school’s approach was one that involved the whole of their community.

“We are really proud of the results we have achieved so far,” Riley said.

“We’re not just trying to help kids through school here, we’re trying to help the Cessnock community by producing kids who are capable of getting quality jobs, being able to operate as a community member, and adding to our community.

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