College reaches new stage in gifted education

Bethany College Hurstville has become one of the first schools to be formally accredited in the Newman Selective Gifted Education Program.

The accreditation gives added rigour to the Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) initiative, which began in 2011 to ensure educational equity for gifted students at primary and secondary schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Bethany’s new principal Robyn Rodwell and past principal Vicki Lavorato received the certificate of accreditation from Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools Dr Dan White at the College’s HSC high achievers assembly on 15 February.

Bethany’s most recent HSC results have placed the College in the top 15 per cent of all NSW schools.

We look for opportunities to develop critical and creative thinking skills and deeper knowledge.

– Kelly Smit

Ms Rodwell said the results follow a focus on differentiation and critical and creative thinking skills that are a staple of the Newman program and a school-wide focus for staff and students.

She said the school’s culture fostered positive relationships that allowed staff to provide an appropriate level of academic challenge for each student.

“Their whole learning is differentiated, then it is individualised,” Ms Rodwell said.

“That’s the aim in teaching for any student. In a Newman class there is still going to be a range of abilities – the best way we can cater for them is by encouraging the staff and students to build good relationships.”

Schools go through a rigorous three-year process to become an accredited Newman Selective Gifted Education Program school.

They evaluate their own performance based on Sydney Catholic Schools’ gifted education framework, and submit evidence of their teaching to a validation panel that includes an independent academic who specialises in gifted education.

The panel observes Newman lessons in action, and interviews the school’s principal, staff, students within the program and their parents to assess how effectively the school is meeting the needs of its gifted students. When successful, schools are accredited for four years, then engage in the process again to maintain their accreditation.

Gifted learning – Bethany in action

The panel praised Bethany for initiatives that included assessment with real-world links to challenge gifted students, and creating strong links with universities, gifted education specialists, and local primary schools who also offer the Newman program.

They commended the school’s introduction of new elective subjects for Years 9 and 10 including Big History, which Macquarie University developed to give a big-picture view of History through Science, Philosophy and other disciplines.

The school has also developed a comprehensive reporting structure to inform parents of their daughter’s progress in the Newman class and delivered parent education seminars on the socio-emotional characteristics of gifted students.

It was deemed outstanding in the way it recognised and celebrated student achievement, and in the quality of professional development opportunities for College staff in gifted education.

Bethany’s Newman facilitator Kelly Smit said accreditation in the program had solidified the College’s plan to pursue differentiated learning for all students, and continued to build school’s positive profile in the community.

“What we are focusing on in terms of differentiated learning is not necessarily faster learning or more learning,” she said.

“This year we have woven in the SOLO [structure of observed learning outcomes] taxonomy, which looks at taking kids out of a ‘discuss’ or ‘consider’ perspective into abstract thinking.

“We look for opportunities to develop critical and creative thinking skills and deeper knowledge – but also to develop opportunities for students to apply that to the contemporary context. That is driven by the structure and the framework that Newman provides.”

The college offers a Newman stream in English, Science, Mathematics and grouped Human Society and its Environment (HSIE), Religious Education (RE) and Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) subjects.

It will also join the pilot to streamline entry to the program in Year 7 from feeder primary schools through a selective test. Unlike admission into the state’s selective schools, the test results form only part of the selection process. Primary schools also share data on students’ learning growth and parents can give evidence of their child’s giftedness as part of their portfolio for entry.

Dr White said he hoped more Sydney Catholic schools would deliver the selective program in the coming years.

“It’s about ensuring gifted students who attend their local Catholic school are given the opportunity to reach their potential,” he said.

“We want to make sure that children within our comprehensive system of Catholic schools can access this ground-breaking program.

“It benefits not only the individual learner but the whole school community, thanks to a strong focus on teacher professional development that our Sydney Catholic Schools system and gifted education experts are proud to guide and support.”

Read more about the Newman Selective Gifted Education Program here.

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