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Parent engagement the key to great schools

Strong leadership, engaged parents and teachers who want to learn have been identified as key characteristics of NSW public schools that create a culture of excellence.

Students at Lansvale Public School

Student engagement is a top priority at Lansvale Public School.

Research by the department’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) identified five schools that excelled in education delivery all shared the quality practices of:

  • Providing students with additional learning support and involving parents in student learning to ensure it continued outside of school
  • A strong emphasis on staff learning, development and evaluation to improve teaching practice
  • Strong, effective principals who modelled leadership within and beyond their schools, and who mentor and build leadership capacity in staff.

The schools – Lansvale Public School, Rooty Hill High School, Sefton High School, Taree West Public School and Woonona High School – were selected based on their effective implementation of the 14 elements underpinning quality learning, teaching and leading, known as the School Excellence Framework (SEF).

Lansvale Public School principal Mark Diamond said it was gratifying for the school to receive recognition for innovation in the CESE research study, ‘Creating a culture of excellence’, given that students had to overcome barriers to succeed.

Around 94 per cent of students at the school come from a non-English-speaking background and the school’s population has a higher than average level of economic disadvantage.

Mr Diamond said the school had worked hard at creating a partnership with parents in their children’s learning. This started in the early years, with a preschool on site and playgroups for toddlers run by the school.

“We have a really strong emphasis on early intervention and our preschool and playgroups allow us to develop very early on partnerships in lifelong learning with our parents,” Mr Diamond said.

Other parent-focused initiatives were PaTCH (parents as teachers and classroom helpers) where parents learn how to assist their children with literacy and numeracy skills, and forums to help parents better understand teaching practices.

Mr Diamond said the school was adaptive to students’ individual learning, with teachers working to a fortnightly learning cycle so modifications could be made based on student feedback and teacher observation.

“Our focus is on engagement – we really do believe in teaching our students to learn how to learn,” he said.

Like Lansvale Public, Rooty Hill High School has a high level of disadvantage, yet embraced a philosophy of high expectations of staff and students.

To take pressure off parents, the school had introduced junior and senior learning centres where students could drop in and get support with assignments and homework.

Principal Christine Cawsey said the initiative recognised that many parents could not support their children’s learning either as a result of work commitments or a lack of confidence.

The school also had a strong emphasis on leadership with all teachers expected to take on a leadership role from their second year in the school.

Ms Cawsey, who has led the school for 20 years, said the school also focused on engaging with the local community.

The school had reimagined its Year 10 work experience program into a social enterprise program that aimed to solve problems in the local community.

Ms Cawsey said the new approach was a form of “radical localism” where students could develop the skills they would need to help build the community in which they wanted to live.

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