Four Sydney Catholic schools are among the 52 NSW primary and high schools that have shown an improvement in reading or numeracy significantly above the national average for similar schools.
St Mary’s Catholic Primary Georges Hall, Sacred Heart Catholic Primary Villawood, St Ursula’s College Kingsgrove, and Holy Spirit Catholic College Lakemba are among the 52 NSW primary and high schools that have shown an improvement in reading or numeracy above the national average.
The schools represent a third of the 12 Catholic schools in NSW identified by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) alongside independent and government schools as having achieved significant growth in an area of the NAPLAN tests.
The information was released during the authority’s update of its My Schools website on March 5. The schools were identified based on three things: a large overall gain, gain compared to schools with similar student demographic, and gain compared to students at similar NAPLAN start points.
“The key is that we’ve all done this together – parents, teachers and staff” – Steven Lemos, Principal.
Literacy gain: Holy Spirit Catholic College Lakemba
Simple and explicit strategies have helped lift reading performance at Holy Spirit Catholic College, where English is a second language for about 92 per cent of the school’s 1050 students. They are encouraged to ‘Know, Find, and Conclude’ (KFC), and examine the literal and hidden meaning of a text through another technique ‘Here, Hidden, Head’.
Teachers, students and parents were taught the strategies, and a 10-week targeted intervention program is held for groups of up to 20 students to help improve their reading and comprehension skills.
“Those reading strategies are part of the language of the school now,” said Principal Ray Martin.
“They have become part of the culture and that’s why the improvement has come about. All the staff got on board because they realised that once they could read, the students were better able to access the science curriculum or TAS curriculum, or even mathematics.
“We’re very excited as a school to be acknowledged for our improvements in reading.”
Numeracy gain: St Mary’s Catholic Primary Georges Hall
St Marys’ former Principal Steven Lemos was at the school for seven years before taking up another post in 2015. He said the school had looked closely at the available data on students’ literacy and numeracy levels before setting the goal to develop students’ proficiency in addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and problem solving with whole numbers.
“The key is that we’ve all done this together – parents, teachers and staff,” Mr Lemos said.
“We had parent forums where teachers actually demonstrated how maths was taught in the classroom. There were close to 60 parents who attended – the highest number of parents we’d had at a forum.”
St Marys’ new principal Maureen Jones said the improvement was wonderful to see. “The major change has been building the capacity of teachers from Kindergarten to Year 6 to understand and use the data from their assessments to form individual activities for the students to get to that next level,” she said.
Numeracy gain: Sacred Heart Catholic Primary Villawood
Sacred Heart Principal Michelle Bourne taught mathematics to a group of year 5 students last year to support staff in lifting students’ numeracy skills.
The school also has a high percentage of students who count English is a second language, and about 80 per cent of students are from Vietnamese families.
“Teachers make the difference to students learning outcomes, so all staff have been involved in the same professional development,” she said.
“We all have high expectations of what the students can achieve. We spent a lot of time looking at how to better cater for the individual needs of the students.”
“It’s about working with the data and then looking at each student as an individual” – Stacey Potts, Principal.
Numeracy gain: St Ursula’s College Kingsgrove
St Ursula’s Principal Stacey Potts said she was proud of her school’s numeracy gain, which reflects the hard work of Mathematics department staff in making the subject engaging and meaningful for students. She said staff professional development and being part of the Newman Project, Sydney Catholic schools’ gifted and talented program, had helped.
“Over the past five years we’ve created a diverse learning team and brought special needs teacher, a literacy and numeracy teacher, and the gifted and talented teacher under the umbrella of our teaching and learning coordinator,” Mrs Potts said.
“That helps us to identify students who have very particular needs and puts either support or enrichment into place for them.”
Mrs Potts said the Newman project and analysis of student data including NAPLAN results had prompted school-wide development in differentiation, which involves pre-testing students for each unit of work to determine appropriate extension activities or support if needed.
“It’s not individualised tuition as such, it’s about working with the data and then looking at each student as an individual,” she said.