Dear Westall Secondary College Community,
I would like to share with you a snapshot of our school and focus that was shared with the Education Department recently. This occurred as we have been identified as a high performing school within the Department. The purpose is for other schools and the system to learn from each other and for us to share and celebrate the significant strategies we have implemented and the fantastic results we have achieved over the last 5 years. This is certainly not to say we can’t keep improving and do things better as that is our ongoing mantra. It is ok though to also pause occasionally and be proud of where we are today and what we have achieved. I hope you enjoy the read and feel a sense of pride in your children and our school as I do.
Westall SC vision and focus is a personalised learning approach for every student. We define personalised learning at Westall as meeting the NEEDS and WANTS of every student.
We meet NEED through the use of data to diagnose and identify where the teaching needs to be targeted for each student and class. We focus on learning data and standards to deliver our curriculum rather than simply looking at Year levels.
As an example, at Years 7 and 8 for English and Maths, we now have Junior School Numeracy and Junior School Literacy classes that have students across Years 7 and 8 mixed together based on need. These groups range from Vic Curriculum Level 4 right though to Vic Curriculum Levels 9 and 10.
We meet WANT through a range of extracurricular programs and our suite of elective options. The iCreate program which goes across Years 7-12 (runs half a day every Wednesday) is another example of both exploring student voice and agency and groups being based on needs or passions rather than simply the traditional age and year level groupings.
Our results over the last few years have been exceptionally strong. We have achieved the Panorama INFLUENCE rating on many areas over the last few years including in 2018 where not only did we achieve INFLUENCE ratings but the overall rating was INFLUENCE. A very proud achievement for Westall SC. This is the highest rating a school can achieve.
Again in 2020 based on our Annual Report Data, we rated either above State Mean, above Similar School Mean, or above both, in every measure other than retention. The retention numbers simply reflect the transience in our community rather than students leaving to neighbouring schools. Our Staff, Student and Parent opinion data continue to be very strong (above State Means). Most pleasing and most significant is the value add in our student learning data from Years 7 to 9 and into VCE and VCAL. We really do make a difference and students grow above the expected rate. An internal mantra we aim toward is 3 years growth every 2 years.
So how do we do it?
Firstly, an evidence-based and consistent Instructional Model used across the school. Our Instructional Model is Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI - Hollingsworth and Ybarra). EDI encompasses a suite of steps and strategies to follow. One of the most important steps is the teacher constantly checking for understanding so the EDI model is very different to traditional teacher talk or lecturing, even though by name it might imply a teacher directed approach. It is actually quite the opposite being very student centred and responsive. EDI arguably covers 8 or 9 of the DET 10 HITS (High Impact Teaching Strategies).
Secondly, a comprehensive intervention approach across the school. For many years we have received significant equity and EAL index funding to provide additional support to our learners. We employ 3 x Literacy/EAL coaches (1 for each Sub School) who work with staff and students in that Sub School around additional Literacy and EAL supports for students and building of teacher capability. We also have a PSD coordinator, integration aides in classrooms, literacy and numeracy aides in classrooms along with the important leadership role provided by our Literacy and Numeracy Learning Specialists who play a key role in ensuring coherence, coordination and teacher capability. These learning specialists are members of our School Improvement Team (SIT). More recently, the DET MYLNS and Tutor initiatives have provided further support to our students. As Westall SC has had a history of additional staffing support and equity funding, we have become expert in converting this funding into improved student outcomes. We are confident that our deployment of MYLNS staff and Tutors will significantly impact those students with whom they work. For the students working above the level we have an “Aim High” program and this aligns with DET’s recent Victorian High Ability Program (VHAP) of which we have joined.
Thirdly, a consistent approach around common assessment tasks, how we provide feedback and the use of rubrics. Again, the evidence base and work of Hattie (effect size re feedback) informs what we do here across the school.
Fourthly, an orderly, safe and stimulating learning environment is critical. The “Westall Way” is our implementation of the SWPBS (School Wide Positive Behaviour System). We issue Westall points, have learning charts in every classroom and have a focus on rewards and positive behaviours rather than rules and consequences. Further to our classroom approach in this space, is our Wellbeing and student support structure. We have a Sub School model that mirrors aspects of Primary School where students have key teaching staff they work with and a space they work in, rather than being moved all around the school with a different teacher for every subject (as is the traditional secondary college model) Further we have a Wellbeing Team and new Wellbeing Centre led by a Fulltime Student Wellbeing Leader and Part Time Health Nurse and DET Mental Health Practitioner. We even have a Therapy Dog (Percy), who works 2 days per week.
A key element of how all these ties together and we achieve coherence is our Professional Learning approach across the school. Along with Literacy and Numeracy, our 3rd Learning Specialist oversees professional learning and our marquee, Westall Institute Teaching (WIT) program. The WIT is a 12-month course that uses the Canvas platform (used by Bastow for their courses). Staff have a weekly 75-minute session in small groups (3-6 staff) where they work through an online weekly module. The modules cover the approaches listed through this synopsis of our school and reflect the Key Improvement Strategies (KIS’) in our Strategic Plan. There are modules for EDI, Curriculum and Assessment, Remote Learning, DET and the Victorian Teaching Learning Model (VTLM), EAL, Literacy and the Westall Way. Each module has 3-5, 75 minute online sessions. All staff worked through the 12-month WIT course in 2020. In 2021 and moving forward each year, all new staff will undertake the 12-month WIT program which results in them moving from provisional to full registration as a Westall teacher (a play on the VIT processes and name) After completing the 12-month course staff are still able to access all the modules online for reference and refreshers as needed.
Along with the WIT, our teams and weekly staff learning sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays are all linked back to the classroom and the Kis’/modules of the WIT. There is no ambiguity in the school regards our focus, what we work on and what is expected and this clarity and consistency ensures coherence and alignment across the school. All decision making across the school links back to ensuring alignment with our KIS’ and connection to improved student outcomes.
Until next time,