Wellbeing with Cecil Hills High School – What works best podcast

This podcast was originally published 14 September 2020.

This podcast is part of an eight-part series. In this podcast, Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, speaks with Cecil Hills High School Principal, Mark Sutton, about how every student is known, valued and cared for in a large, comprehensive high school. Students give insights into some of the ways their school supports student wellbeing.

Mark Scott speaks with Principal, Mark Sutton, at Cecil Hills High School.

Intro: Welcome to a special CESE podcast series on the ‘What works best: 2020 update’. For eight exclusive episodes join the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, Mark Scott, as he speaks with schools and students, like me, about effective teaching practices that support student academic achievements. This week’s topic is on wellbeing with Cecil Hills High School.

Mark Scott: Well, today I’m speaking with Principal Mark Sutton and students at Cecil Hills High School about the What Works Best theme of wellbeing. Mark, you run a big high school, 1400 students. How do you ensure that every student is known, valued, and cared for in a large comprehensive high school?

Mark Sutton: So, one of the main ways is through our Connect program. Now, that is a rollcall program we implemented a few years ago, and essentially, students at our school will have the same rollcall Teacher from Year 7 to Year 12. And in large high school where we have about 250 students in each grade, we don’t want anyone to be just a number in the system, we don’t want anyone to be lost in that. So, the role of the Connect Teacher is to, as the name suggests, connect, succeed, and thrive, with those individual students from Year 7 all the way up until Year 12. There’s a part of the SEF that does talk about students being able to have an identified staff member that they can go to, and our Year Advisors, which I’ll have a chance to talk about later today, they do a fantastic job, but there’s only two of them for each grade, and that is where the Connect Teachers do step in, and they really do have that connection with the students. Part of what they’re able to do is to track data on their class. So, we were nominated for a T4L award for our Connect app, which is something that we developed in-house. Basically, what it allows our Teachers to do is have a look at that important data that supports wellbeing first thing in the morning. So, they can have a look at lateness, they can have a look at behaviour, they can have a look at attendance. They can have a look at uniform, diary, whether students are bringing their device, and we capture all of that data so that we have that information available. So, that’s the other part of our Connect program.

Mark Scott: Mark, we know that wellbeing and students’ wellbeing is of value and importance in its own right, but do you see spin-off effects from this focus on wellbeing as far as student progress is concerned, student engagement, and then finally student achievement? Mark Sutton: Yeah, so look, I mean, students do have to be happy little Vegemites; in order for them to be successful at school, we’ve got to get those basics right. I’ll talk about the role of parenting and what we do with P&C there as well, but it is essential that we focus on the basics: getting them to school; making sure they are ready for learning; making sure that they are engaged in their curriculum, and making sure that they have a pathway, whatever that pathway is for them. There is a part of the SEF that does talk about having a planned approach to wellbeing, and I’d like to think here through our Welfare Team we do have that planned approach. It’s important for every school I think to have an idea, a scope, and sequence, in terms of when the welfare events are going to be happening. So, our Welfare Team is very clear from Year 7 to Year 12 when all of those events are taking place, and we also plan from Year 5. So, when students are in Year 5, that’s when we select the Year Advisors. We’re undergoing that process right now for our 2022 cohort, which will graduate in 2027, so there’s a lot of advanced planning that takes place. With our Year Advisors and the Welfare Team, it does mean that those, I call them the “Year 5 Advisors,” they do have a long lead time in terms of when they are able to access help within the school. Mark Scott: So, you really prioritise transition as a wellbeing strategy? Mark Sutton: Yeah, absolutely. I think it can be very tricky, as you said before, just being thrown into high school. You’ve had one Teacher in Year 6; now you’ve got 10 Teachers in Year 7, even down to the point where we think about the transition days that are involved. The bulk of students will only come for the one day, that is the orientation day, but even then, we try a concept called “emptying the school.” So, maybe won’t work this year because of the situation, but we try to get as many grades out of the school on that day, so the emphasis is on Year 6. Year 10 do work experience, Year 12 of course have gone by then. We have some student leaders in the school. Typically, Year 8, Year 9, they go on a few excursions. So, the emphasis is really on Year 6 on that day.

Mark Scott: Just tell me how the Teachers at Cecil Hills model healthy coping strategies, to really encourage students to self-regulate well?

Mark Sutton: So, we’re a positive behaviour for learning school. I think that is the crux of what we do here. We call it “focus here,” not to confuse it with the other PBL, but we call it “focus here.” We have our three words or three values: being respectful, responsible, and successful. And being a PBL or focus school, it means that we have a very clear matrix on how we approach behaviour within the school, not only from the students’ point of view, but those three words, being respectful, responsible, and successful, that applies to the staff as well. If there are issues that are happening day-today, we go to the data, we have a look at what needs to be re-taught to students, and that is the focus through that particular team.

Mark Scott: That’s good. All right, let’s roll in the students. Hi guys, how you going?

Student: Good, how are you?

Mark Scott: So, Damien, tell me, why is student wellbeing important at Cecil Hills High School? Damien Subotic Year 8 student: It can make a student feel comfortable in the school area. It can make them feel comfortable, such as physical wellbeing, emotional wellbeing, and mental wellbeing, each meaning different things. Physical meaning having the right amount of exercise to suit your healthy body. Mental being social wellbeing, being comfortable around family, friends, teachers, and counsellors. And emotional wellbeing means what’s happening inside your brain. If you’re happy, if you’re sad, talk about it, like you’re in a comfortable environment.

Mark Scott: Jessica, how does the school there support student wellbeing? What’s been your experience of it?

Jessica Narvaiza Year 10 student: Our school supports student wellbeing through lots of ways. We have lots of facilities, including Stymie, which is basically like an online resource which students can anonymously talk about issues with other students, anonymously so they don’t feel pressure to tell someone in person. We also have “Tell them from you” survey, which is a survey basically for students and how they’re feeling with each subject and teacher and their homework. And we also have our Connect classes, so like our rollcalls, where they have one teacher from Year 7 to 12, which can basically give them a sense of someone who’s constantly there for their whole high school career; someone they can lean on with more day-to-day issues.

Mark Scott: And Kuber, how do students develop and express their voice effectively at the school? What opportunities are given to you to do that?

Kuber Thakur Year 9 student: Well, at our school, we have many opportunities such as SRC and house leadership. What I like to focus on is the contextual aspect of how students can really express their voice through opportunities they perceive they can’t really express their voice. So, we have year-end electives, a year-end elective day where they can put on a show and show the things they’ve been doing in class. That in itself is an opportunity for them to develop and express their voice. We also have student executive meetings, especially with year advisors. That can really show the comparison between the teachers’ understanding, and whether the teachers’ and students’ understanding is connected together.

Mark Scott: So, it sounds like a real priority at the school is around student voice and that there are lots of ways that you are encouraged to be open and frank in providing feedback and making a contribution to have your voice heard.

Kuber Thakur: Yes.

Mark Scott: Well, thanks for your time, and thanks Mark, for your help on all this too.

Mark Sutton: Okay See you later. Bye.

Mark Scott: Bye.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this special What works best podcast series, produced by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation or CESE. Tune in next week or subscribe to listen to the next episode.

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