School perspectives: Principals of schools achieving substantially above average gain in NAPLAN 2017

We asked a number of principals of schools that demonstrated substantially above average gain in NAPLAN 2017, to tell us about the initiatives, methods, resources and programs they have implemented within their schools to make a difference to their students’ literacy and numeracy outcomes. Here are their stories. 

Gail Allen

Principal of Pemberton District High School, Pemberton WA

Our story is all about our data, and in February 2015, when I started as principal, the school community were unaware of severe downward trends in literacy and numeracy that had been occurring over many years. It has been challenging to work to create a formative assessment environment, but we have achieved this over the last three years and worked to demonstrate what improvements would do for the achievements of our students. We have significantly improved the coordination, consistency and structure of our literacy and numeracy practices and testing, utilising data to plan, act and evaluate. We have been through a thorough and comprehensive process of learning about:

  • where our students are at (educationally) data wise, knowing and understanding how to use the data and information, and what we can do to change=improve our practices so students are learning, so about formative assessment practices that are measured and monitored
  • knowledge and understanding of high expectations for every child at the school
  • creating professional learning communities that demonstrate quality collaboration and structuring time to collaborate
  • creating and consulting to prepare quality improvement plans that target the students’ needs thoroughly, celebrate their success
  • understanding and know the curriculum and use a consistent approach for the literacy and numeracy practices across the school
  • early childhood improvements in phonological practices and providing further support for teachers through working with consultants and all support mechanisms
  • how to understand that everything we do is for our core business - student learning
  • introducing positive behaviour strategies across the school through the PBS state initiative.  

Our school is now turning around to be the high performing school that our students deserve.


Jodie Kingham

Principal of Clapham Primary School, SA

Over the past two years, we have most certainly planned and implemented strategies, teaching and learning programs, provided professional development and elevated the expectations of staff to collaboratively plan, moderate and then further plan targeted teaching points for individuals, cohorts of students and whole school need. 

Our staff work in teams and we utilise assessment data (NAPLAN, PAT, Running Records and school based data) to identify gaps and strengths. We have also restructured our intervention programs and implement evidence based programs such as Minilit, Multilit and QuickSmart. 

Our English as Additional Language and Dialect teacher’s role has also been restructured into a ‘coaching and mentoring’ role for staff in literacy. Whole school agreements are also integral to our everyday teaching and learning programs.  


Kerrie Merritt

Principal of Assumption Catholic Primary School, Mandurah WA

We have reflected upon the past four years and the impact we have made to move our NAPLAN results in an upward trend.

Since 2014, our school has embedded play-based and inquiry-based learning from Kindergarten to Year Six. This has enabled the students to develop their higher-order thinking and problem solving skills, which will hopefully assist them as they prepare for their future.

We have also analysed our data and looked at the overall growth of our students.

  • Synthetic Phonics, Guided Reading and structured intervention programs have enabled us to target the individual needs of our students.
  • Brightpath has enabled us to moderate our Writing and gain a deeper understanding of each student and their progress and requirements to move forward.
  • Numeracy: in 2017 we participated in the CEWA Numeracy Project and extended our Numeracy support throughout the school.
  • Mindfulness: Since 2016 our school has been trialling various aspects of mindfulness; including meditation, yoga, mandelas and desk top drumming to name a few. This year this is across the whole school. All staff have completed Trauma Informed Training through CEWA and Australian Children’s Foundation.

All of these, with a very dedicated staff and parent community, have contributed to a positive growth at Assumption Catholic Primary School.


Beth Peterson

Principal of Durack State School, Durack, Queensland

The Mathematics Program at Durack State School addresses educational disparities evident in our low SES, bilingual and Indigenous community. It delivers the Australian Curriculum – Mathematics in ways that are culturally appropriate and accessible for all students, and sustainable for staff.

At Durack State School, English is a second language for 76% of our children. Furthermore, on a socio-educational scale (ICSEA), the school ranks 934, well below the national average of 1000. In addition, 11% of our students are Indigenous. These factors combine to produce a challenging educational setting. In response to the school context and school data, we identified the need for an innovative approach to teaching Mathematics, one that would specifically address the vocabulary deficit of our students and cater for their distinct learning profiles.

To bring about change, the first (and ongoing) step has been to build teacher and teacher-aide capacity. Using I4S funding, we employed a highly qualified Numeracy Coach whose experience included involvement in the development of the Australian Curriculum – Mathematics and writing NAPLAN questions, all whilst leading the RoleM longitudinal research project within the Australian Catholic University (ACU). Her mandate: to improve Math outcomes for Indigenous and EAL/D students.

A team approach has been critical to fostering and sustaining change. In particular, timetabling year level planning – under the guidance of the Numeracy Coach and supported by the Head of Curriculum and Master Teacher – creates momentum that drives whole school change in Mathematics. This team fore-fronted how assessment (summative and formative) informs instruction, gradually building the confidence of teachers to interrogate student data. Through rigorous interrogation, teachers identify student strengths and weaknesses and also highlight areas for professional growth in teaching Mathematics. 

Teachers and Teacher Aides transformed their pedagogical practice and now reduce the literacy demands on our students by providing much of the Maths instruction orally. An array of visually and kinesthetically stimulating resources support this oral instruction. In addition, the instruction is highly differentiated: it scaffolds our most needy children while providing for extension. 

Ongoing capacity building is timetabled into the school professional learning schedule. It is provided to individuals, year levels and the whole school. Staff have access to video and online learning opportunities and Curriculum Cafes. Horizontal and vertical moderation are embedded into our program.

Participating in the ACU longitudinal RoleM (Relationships and Oral Language Engagement in Mathematics) project gave us a deep understanding of the importance of an extensive collection of hands-on resources to support the teaching of mathematical concepts. 

Students now show passion in mathematical pursuits and confidently engage in robotics, coding, problem-solving games, online enrichment programs and district competitions such as the Maths Team Challenge and Chess Tournament. They are becoming highly numerate and lifelong learners of Mathematics, who are able to meet the numeracy demands of life in the 21st century. 


Kath Tanner

Principal of Port Fairy Consolidated Primary School, Port Fairy Victoria

The key drivers of success in our school is the expertise of our stable and experienced staff who value collaboration. The staff work closely, with shared planning time so that there is consistency across each team. They have enormous trust in each other and are very supportive, with student outcomes at the core of what they do.

In Numeracy, our approach is based on the constructivist approach of Michael Ymer. The school has invested strongly in building the capabilities of staff so that they are confident in this approach. Ymer has visited our school on three occasions and staff are regularly given professional learning in this area by the Numeracy Leader.  

In the teaching of reading the school adopted the CAFÉ program over the past years. Our experienced Literacy Leader mentored staff in this area. Through analysing the data, staff knew that some students were still falling through the gaps.

At the end of 2016 the Leadership team researched some best practices in reading which led to Bentleigh West to see their work on Multi-Sensory Structured Language (MSL). MSL is an approach to teach Phonics and Phonemic awareness. The F-2 team spent five days learning about MSL and then began the task of implementing that into the Literacy block at school. This led to significant changes across the school with years 3-6 implementing Direct Instruction through Spelling Mastery, Morphology learning and the CARS and STARS reading comprehension program.  

By the end of the year, we were seeing strong growth in reading and spelling in our students and they were demonstrating a stronger understanding of how to read and spell words. The F-2 team had anecdotal evidence that this approach was successful and most students showed good growth.

In 2018 we are building on the gains made last year with all staff part of the SW reading project, participating in the Sounds Write training. We are also fortunate to be selected to be a lead school in the School Improvement Partnership, which is a new initiative to work collaboratively with other schools to improve reading.

Daine Burnett

Principal of St Pius X Catholic Primary School, Manning WA 

St Pius X Catholic Primary School (CPS) is on a collaborative journey of fostering teacher efficacy – every child at our school is acknowledged and treated as an individual learner. Staff members are constantly working together to support ongoing student progress as a high priority, through the effective use of both time and resources. This work is encouraged in face-to-face professional conversations and dialogue, as well as through online professional conversations in a collaborative space.
St Pius X CPS recognises that developing strong relationships is the key to student success. Staff members have been able to ‘loop’ - spend consecutive years with the class, ensuring that there is a full understanding of the learning needs of each child. This approach has put catering for individual needs at the forefront and assists in the ongoing management of each student’s learning. Established relationships carrying over from previous years make the transitions into new teaching and learning rigorous and efficient.
The school continues to focus on its pedagogical development as we strive to cater for 21st Century learners.

Mark McKeown

Principal of St Anne’s Catholic School, Strathfield South NSW

The gains achieved in NAPLAN scores by our 2017 Year cohort were a great affirmation of the direction the school has taken over the previous three years. The model of an on-staff literacy and numeracy teachers’ coach was initiated in a cluster of twelve Sydney Catholic Primary Schools including St Anne’s in 2015. This model of building teacher capacity in order to improve student outcomes has a rigorous contemporary research basis, its efficacy confirmed by our own data analysis.

Our expert teacher coach facilitates such structures as peer learning walks (through each other’s classrooms) and regular planning meetings led by the coach (when data is analysed and implications applied to ‘in time’ planning decisions). The intention of our shared pedagogy is that every child in every class is working within their zone of ‘proximal development’, that is, taking an appropriate next step in their own personal learning journey. Student passions, experience and capacity are catered for when learning experiences are connected and students have choice in how they learn. Experiential learning across the curriculum, from challenge-based STEM opportunities to the planning and tending of a vegetable garden, become natural vehicles for the development of literacy skills. The sustained daily focus on literacy instruction includes targeted explicit teaching – effectively directed by assessment data to meet student learning needs.

Rob Duncan

Principal of Narre Warren South P-12 College, Narre Warren South VIC

Driving our improved NAPLAN results in Year 9 Numeracy was an increased focus on mathematical language. The focus is evident in every facet of our Teaching and Learning Model, our assessments and subsequently, our classrooms. Further to that, we have re-structured student grouping in mathematics to best prepare students for their senior pathways, and made our curriculum and assessments more accessible to our students.
Learning Intentions and Success Criteria include key mathematical language and are discussed with the class by the classroom teacher. The mathematical language is continually referenced throughout the work program ensuring that students experience multiple exposures. All explicit instruction and worked examples will include and reiterate the mathematical language and questioning techniques are regularly used to check for the students ability to recall the meanings of terms and to check for students understanding of, and ability to apply the terms.
Teaching is differentiated through our student groupings. Roughly 20% of our students working on advanced at-level content, with a focus on having a deeper understanding of at-level content and drawing greater connections between concepts. The remaining students are working on accessible at-level content, with a focus on understanding and applying skills. Further levels of differentiation exist within each classroom, and are carried out by the classroom teacher at the individual student level.
This approach has seen an increase in our NAPLAN Numeracy results at Year 9, but more importantly, has seen students re-engage or maintain engagement with mathematics as it is not being pitched at a level that they are unable to access, nor is it being pitched at a level that is too simple for them. The increased focus on mathematical language, and multiple exposures has ensured that students are able to apply skills and knowledge that have been learned months earlier with a greater success than has been seen previously.

David Cramb

Principal of Woongoolba State School, Woongoolba QLD

At Woongoolba, we believe in making a difference to every child, every day. To do this, we have developed strategies to provide a personalised and targeted learning approach for all students. Using an inquiry approach, teaching staff regularly and consistently identify student need, plan and act to meet that need and reflect on the results. This is an on-going process and is implemented through the school’s Proficiency Studies Program which is a key initiative to support student learning growth.

Four times a week, for one session per day, every class participates in proficiency time. During these sessions, human, material and digital resources are provided to each class. Teachers, teacher aides and specialist teachers combine to form teaching and learning teams in each classroom. Using the collection of relevant data, staff identify student performance and need and group students accordingly. Specific, targeted learning goals are developed for each student underpinned by the Literacy Continuum. This document ensures consistency of language and strategies.

After each five week period, each teaching and learning team will meet to review and reflect on each child’s current performance during proficiency time. This inquiry approach also allows the team to again scan each child’s current performance to consider plans for the next period. Staff use a collection of diagnostic and observational data to confirm if a student has achieved the current learning goals and to consider which goals will be targeted next. Goals are developed using the Literacy Continuum. 

Key strategies used to assist in the improvement of student performance have been the Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Reading strategy as well as a consistent oral language program for prep students. For classes from year 1 to 6, students regularly work with staff in HOT reading. This initiative requires students to read and then listen to a targeted text. Students then search the text for new and unknown vocabulary. The learning group discuss the structure and purpose of the text before finally analysing the text by contributing to a shared discussion on meaning to build comprehension. HOT reading encourages students to communicate with each other and build a deeper understanding about text.

At Woongoolba, personalised learning is the cornerstone of our improvement strategy in reading. Proficiency studies and quality data analysis, targeted pedagogy and regular learning team meetings through an inquiry approach have been instrumental in our improvement journey.

Bradley Hall

Principal of John Paul College, Kalgoorlie WA

John Paul College is a Y7-12 Catholic Secondary School serving the community of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the surrounding Eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia.  This area is predominantly a mining region 570km east of Perth, with a highly transient population. This poses unique educational challenges when approaching school improvement.

As a result of these educational challenges, in 2015 the College undertook a school-improvement initiative supported by Catholic Education WA, based on Dr Lyn Sharratt and Dr Michael Fullan’s programme of 'putting faces on the data'. 

The programme was designed to bolster high-impact literacy instruction with a view to underpinning student achievement across all learning areas. Specific strategies introduced through the programme, such as the use of explicit learning intentions and success criteria, have been embraced by the staff as the critical step in whole-school improvement.

Technological innovations, such as the development of our electronic data wall, has allowed for improved tracking and managing of student growth, as well as being a constant visual reminder of the learning needs of our students.  This whole-school approach has led to greater teacher efficacy and improved classroom practice.

An exposure to the work and theory of Prof. John Hattie has led to an ongoing commitment to effective feedback, which has been identified as a highly effective strategy to achieve greater performance outcomes.

The substantial improvement in the Numeracy component of the NAPLAN results can, in part, be attributed to the focus on a Growth Mindset, particularly in Mathematics, with targeted programmes in Year 7 and Year 9. Assessment strategies have also been modified to enable success at lowers levels, with a view to gradually raising the bar as the students’ mathematical confidence has grown – success breeds success. Staff at the College have made a concerted effort to demystify the subject by making it more accessible, engaging, and fun.

There has also been a focus on differentiated learning and strategies for those students that need extra support, and the data from the NAPLAN results has indicated that we have been successful in this area. 

Janice Gooden

Principal of Lucas Heights Community School, NSW

These results were achieved through a combination of factors: supportive parents, willing students, and a very hardworking staff who willingly embraced the challenge of becoming a Bump It Up school; through the formation of K-12 Literacy and Numeracy committees, the applying of funding received to additional specialist teacher time and for professional learning for all staff;  the innovative timetabling of lessons for targeted students, and the scrutiny of school data trends.

The percentage of students in Years 3 and 5 accessing the top 2 bands increased by 5% in 2017.  The percentage of students in Years 7 and 9 accessing the top 2 bands increased by 9% in 2017.  Just as pleasing is the strong value added growth across the bands.

Staff are continuing to analyse trend data and looking to sustain this growth for 2018 and 2019.

I could not be more appreciative of the efforts of the staff, the support of the families and the performance of the students.  I am a very proud Principal!