Passionate principals increase enrolments and results
Improved academic performance has been the hallmark of the leadership of principals at two Sydney boys’ high schools. Pascal Adolphe reports.
02 March 2023
Since Hala Ramadan became principal at Belmore Boys High School eight years ago, enrolments have almost doubled, from 285 to 550 students.
Now 75 per cent of Belmore Boys students go on to university, up from 50 per cent when she first arrived at the school, and NAPLAN results are improving year on year.
Ms Ramadan’s leadership is guided by a simple vision of improving performance and behaviour by creating an environment where the students can feel “relaxed and good about themselves”.
A complete refurbishment of the school, including lush gardens nurtured by school horticulture programs, has helped her to realise this vision.
She’s also focused on engaging parents in the school community. “In areas of lower socioeconomic status, it’s important that schools work with families to improve living conditions for them,” Ms Ramadan said.
As a result, Belmore Boys High has become a living embodiment of lifelong learning. The school has partnered with TAFE NSW to offer parents courses and formal credentials in floristry, sewing, barista, English, educational support and job-ready skills.
“What better way for our boys to experience lifelong learning than to see their parents do these courses and graduate,” Ms Ramadan said.
The school even holds formal graduation celebrations for the parents, which are among the many regular celebrations at the school.
“We have a celebration culture,” Ms Ramadan said. “We have 35 language backgrounds at the school, and we celebrate every one of them. We’re about to celebrate a merging of Easter and Eid (Eid al-Fitr) that we’re calling Eidster.”
She’s also planning a celebration to mark the refurbishment of the school.
“We’re moving Belmore into the future. When the kids leave Belmore, I want them to be ready academically, emotionally and socially.”
A school the community values
The turnaround in the fortunes of Granville Boys High has been in the media spotlight, with a focus on the initiatives principal Noel Dixon has implemented to improve student behaviour and academic performance at the school.
These include a traditional Scottish pipe band program that’s attracted a rich multicultural flavour in its membership, and a barber shop where students and locals – such as police and aged care residents – can get a free haircut while students learn hairdressing skills.
Mr Dixon has also given students a great incentive to stop fights in the playground. Any student who does so, gets a voucher for chicken and chips at a popular nearby chicken takeaway shop. It’s worked a treat.
His proudest achievement, however, is the improvement in academic results, particularly in the HSC since 2017.
“The greatest thing we can do is to have students leave school with a great HSC,” Mr Dixon said.
“We’ve halved the number of students in the bottom two bands of the HSC. And since 2019 we’ve doubled the number of students in the two highest bands,” Mr Dixon said.
“We have an accelerated maths program which sees our students finish Advanced Maths in Year 11. Last year we had three boys achieve scores of 84, 94 and 96. A great achievement and that frees them up for the HSC this year.”
The maths program was particularly beneficial for one student who will join a group of Granville Boys’ High robotics students travelling to Arkansas in the United States to compete in an international robotics competition.
“He will have one less (HSC) subject to worry about going to the US,” Mr Dixon said. “Granville Boys is the only Australian school at the competition.”
The school also runs a Saturday tutoring program that will double from 60 to 120 students in the next few weeks.
Student enrolments have increased consistently since 2019, with Year 7 enrolments up from 85 students to 162. Overall, the school’s enrolments have risen from 500 students to more than 700 students in 2023.
“The community wants a good school at Granville, and we give them one. That’s our job,” Mr Dixon said.