Effective teaching practices at Balgowlah Boys Campus

This case study was originally published 05 April 2022.


Balgowlah Boys Campus is a government comprehensive secondary school for boys in Years 7 to 12, located in the north-east of Sydney. It is one of 5 schools that constitute the multi‑campus Northern Beaches Secondary College. The school has an average Family Occupation and Education Index (FOEI)1 of 24, indicating that it serves a relatively advantaged population, and a current enrolment of 1,176 students. Enrolments have grown considerably over the past decade, with the student population more than doubling since 2011. Approximately 25% of students come from a language background other than English, and 1% identify as Aboriginal. Balgowlah Boys Campus has a full-time equivalent teaching staff of 80, with a mixture of early-career and more experienced teachers.

Since 2011, Balgowlah Boys Campus has demonstrated substantial and sustained improvement in student results in English in NAPLAN2 value added3 and the HSC.4 In 2011, 32% of students in Year 7 and Year 9 at the school achieved a result in the top 2 bands for NAPLAN reading and numeracy, while in 2021, 53% of students achieved a result in these bands. The school has also demonstrated gains in NAPLAN average scores from Year 7 to Year 9 (value added), with results in Year 7 consistently below the average of the school’s statistically similar schools group (SSSG),5 and results in Year 9 generally equal to, or above, the average of this group.6 Since 2013, results in the Year 9 reading, spelling, and grammar and punctuation domains have been consistently above, or well above, the SSSG average.

The school has also seen improvement in HSC English. In English standard in 2011, Balgowlah Boys Campus students had an average score 7 points lower than the SSSG, while in 2021, it was 9 points higher. In English advanced, the school has been several points higher than the SSSG since 2011 and has had an average course mark of 87 or higher since 2015. Balgowlah Boys Campus is now one of the state’s most consistently top‑performing schools in HSC English, having placed in the top 10 since 2016,7 and placing second overall in 2020.8 The school’s results are particularly notable because of the fact that it is a comprehensive school, rather than a selective school.9

Balgowlah Boys Campus attributes much of its success in English to:

  • the efficacy of its explicit approach to teaching writing
  • a sustained, intensive focus on teacher collaboration, especially in faculty groups
  • providing students with regular feedback on their work that is timely, specific and actionable.

Part 1 of this case study explores the school’s journey in developing and establishing the approach in English, and describes how it is being adopted in other faculties. It also looks at the evidence supporting the school’s approach. An analysis of student achievement data at Balgowlah Boys Campus is provided in Appendix 1.

Part 2 of this case study provides greater detail about the school’s explicit approach to teaching writing in English. A collection of the school’s resources, as well as samples of student work and teacher planning documents, are provided in Appendix 2.

What has worked best to improve student achievement in English at Balgowlah Boys Campus

  • Strong school leadership with a well-defined vision, and strong instructional leadership to implement change.
  • An explicit approach to teaching writing that is introduced early, and practised and refined regularly as students progress through their schooling.
  • A strong focus on teacher professional learning and collaboration – especially in faculty groups – to ensure that all teachers are skilled in the approach and consistent in their practice.
  • Providing students with regular feedback on their work that is timely, specific and actionable.

1 A school-level index of educational disadvantage with a mean (average) of 100 and a standard deviation of 50. Higher values indicate greater levels of need.

2 National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy – an annual Australia-wide assessment of the literacy and numeracy skills of students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

3 A measure that indicates the progress students have made in their learning over a period of time, after adjusting for the characteristics of the students. In this paper, it refers to progress in learning between Year 7 and Year 9.

4 Higher School Certificate – the credential awarded to secondary school students who successfully complete senior high school level studies (Years 11 and 12 or equivalent) in NSW, as well as some schools in the Australian Capital Territory and internationally.

5 A group of up to 60 schools that serve students who are identified as having similar levels of socio-educational advantage.

6 NAPLAN is generally held in the first half of the school year and is therefore unlikely to reflect major changes as a result of programs introduced at the start of Year 7.

7 Based on the percentage of HSC examinations sat in English advanced, extension 1 and extension 2 that achieved a Band 6 or equivalent result.

8 The latest round of HSC results was released just prior to the publication of this paper, with Balgowlah Boys Campus placing 36th in the state for English advanced, extension 1 and extension 2 in 2021 and 7th in the state for English studies, English EAL/D and English standard.

9 Further information and analysis about the school’s results in NAPLAN and the HSC is provided in Appendix 1.


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