The text on this page is also available as a downloadable summary (PDF, 107kB)
How high expectations and engagement in primary school drive student learning explores the role of student engagement and classroom practices for improving student learning. Specifically, it looks at the impact of engagement and effective teaching experienced in Years 5, 6 and 7 on academic performance in Year 7.
• A culture of high expectations is as important for learning in primary school as it is in high school. Year 5 students who report having teachers with high expectations are over 6 months ahead in their learning by Year 7.
• Socioeconomic status has an impact on students’ engagement at school. The proportion of students engaged in primary school is lower for students in the lowest socioeconomic quartile than for more advantaged students across measures of both classroom and social engagement at school.
• Other aspects of effective teaching also matter. When students understand the purpose of what they are learning and teachers deliver clear instruction and relevant content, student achievement improves.
• Having positive peer relationships and classroom behaviour during primary school are also important for learning.
• Students with a positive attitude towards homework during the final year of primary school have better numeracy outcomes in the first year of high school.
The publication is accompanied by professional learning reflection guides for principals and school executive staff to support school leaders in considering the implications of this research for practices in their schools. Two accompanying case studies, from Liverpool West and Warwick Farm public schools, provide additional resources to showcase how schools can effectively promote engagement and ensure high expectations of their students.
The NSW Department of Education Strategic Plan 2018-2022 includes the commitment to ensure that every student is known, valued and cared for in our schools. High expectations reflect an understanding of students’ capacity, ensuring that they feel known at school and are challenged in their learning. Schools can use the department’s Tell Them From Me surveys to capture students’ perceptions of the expectations that they experience. This knowledge can then help build an accurate and timely picture that schools can use for practical improvements.
Achieving high participation rates in the Tell Them From Me (TTFM) parent survey helps schools reliably identify areas of strength and areas for improvement from the perspective of parents, and helps inform practical changes where needed.
A parent poster and flyer to promote TTFM are also available on the TTFM website.
Homebush West Public School has an effective approach in preparing students for secondary school
The school, in the inner west of Sydney, places a strong emphasis on preparing its students for the transition to secondary school. This case study looks at their ‘middle school’ approach, where Year 5 and 6 students are introduced to secondary school structures and routines to prepare them for the transition.
‘Middle school’ helps emphasise the important transition the students will face
When students reach Year 5, the concept of ‘middle school’ is introduced. The students are given more responsibility and are provided opportunities to step into leadership roles. There is also a focus on teaching students to be more responsible for their own learning, including setting learning goals and participating in peer and self-assessment.
The approach allows students to experience secondary school structures and routines
This involves individual student timetables that require students to change classrooms, classmates and teachers according to subject and ability. The students say that this approach allows them to build relationships with more than one teacher and get used to differing teaching approaches and teacher expectations. It also creates opportunities for students to continue making new friends across the cohort.
The staff at Homebush West collaborate, engage in reflective teaching and foster a culture of high expectations
With their unique ‘middle school’ approach, the staff at Homebush West recognise the need to continually refine practice and to be able to differentiate learning to meet the needs of all Year 5 and 6 students. They also attest to the high levels of organisation and communication that are needed to facilitate this approach. They have a constant focus on high expectations, helping students to recognise the opportunities of secondary school and feel confident and excited about the transition.
The Supporting school completion: The importance of engagement and effective teaching (PDF, 1.3MB) explores links between students' engagement and experience of teaching practices in the middle of high school (Year 10) and their likelihood of completing Year 12.
The Supporting school completion: Resources and case studies for schools, teachers and parents/carers (PDF, 3MB) accompanies the Learning Curve and outlines practical strategies that may help facilitate high school completion and post-school transition.
In Australia, socioeconomic status remains a key factor in school completion. By age 19, only 61% of the most disadvantaged students have completed Year 12, compared with 89% of the most advantaged students. It is important that all young people are given the opportunity to complete Year 12, or an equivalent pathway, particularly students who are at risk of not completing school due to their socioeconomic disadvantage.
Using data from the NSW Tell Them From Me (TTFM) secondary school student survey, this Learning Curve explores the links between students’ engagement and experience of teaching practices in the middle of high school (Year 10) and their likelihood of completing Year 12 two years later.
Positive engagement and effective teaching increase all students’ chances of completing Year 12. When students develop positive relationships with teachers and are supported and challenged by teachers, they are more likely to complete school. Likewise, when students put effort in at school, see value in doing homework and believe school is important and useful for future success, they are also more likely to complete Year 12.
Engaging disadvantaged students increases their chances of completing school. When students from low-SES backgrounds report high levels of engagement and effective teaching practice in the middle of high school they are more likely to complete school than students from high-SES backgrounds who are not engaged in school.
Students from low-SES backgrounds are more likely to be disengaged in key predictors of school completion than students from high-SES backgrounds. In NSW, around half of all high-SES students in Year 10 report positive teacher relationships, positive attendance and value the outcomes of school, whereas only a quarter of low-SES students report a similar level of engagement.
This Learning Curve is accompanied by the resource, Supporting school completion: Resources for schools, teachers and parents/carers, which outlines practical strategies that may help facilitate high school completion and post-school transition. The resource includes four case studies from low-SES schools across metropolitan and regional NSW.
Some of the common themes that emerge from the four case studies are:
This course allows educators to explore the provision of advocacy and support in NSW schools and connect education theory with their own practice.
Mode of delivery: online
Accredited hours: 1.5
myPL course code: RG03816
Themes: support for learning, advocacy
Learn more about the Supporting students' learning publications.
CESE talks to school leaders from two NSW schools about how they provide a supportive learning environment for their students.
Featuring: Samuel Cox, CESE.
Murray Kitteringham and Melanie Check, Sir Joseph Banks High School.
Helen Polios, Whalan Public School.
Read the transcript (PDF, 106kB).
The Supporting students' learning - insights from students, parents and teachers (PDF, 1MB) learning curve presents findings from the 2016 Tell Them From Me school surveys completed by primary and secondary students, parents/carer and teachers in NSW government schools. Students provide feedback on how much support they receive from their teachers and their parents/carers, while responses from teachers and parent/carers indicate how much support they provide in school and at home, respectively. It draws on all three perspectives to explore the provision of advocacy and support and how this varies for different groups of students at different stages of school.
The Supporting students' learning - resources and case studies for schools, teachers and parents (PDF, 808kB) accompanies the learning curve, providing evidence-based strategies and two case studies that describe how to create supportive learning environments.
Read the audio paper transcript (PDF, 106kB).
Download the poster (PDF, 120kB).
Alongside effective teaching practices, students need a supportive learning environment to succeed. In an education context, advocacy and support for learning refers to the active consideration of, and support for, students’ academic and wellbeing needs.
The NSW Department of Education Strategic Plan 2018-2022 includes the commitment to ensure that every student is known, valued and cared for in our schools. School advocacy and support for learning are necessary components for happy and successful students. Schools can use the department’s Tell Them From Me surveys to engage with, clarify and strengthen the important relationship between teachers, parents and schools by providing an evidence-based platform to capture feedback. This knowledge can then help build an accurate and timely picture that schools can use for practical improvements.
The summary on this page is also available as a PDF. Download the summary of the two publications (PDF, 180kB).
Authors: Marita Merlene, Wendy Hodge, Kerry Hart, Alexandra Ellinson, Ofir Thaler
Evaluator company/business: ARTD Consultants
URL or PDF: Download the Evaluation of the 'Tell Them From Me' student survey trial (PDF, 1.14MB).
Summary: This formative evaluation provided insight and advice for the future implementation of student surveys. Mixed methods were used —surveys, case studies in five schools and semi-structured interviews. 172 secondary schools and 55 primary schools took part in the pilot online student survey and were approached to participate in the evaluation. The evaluation found that principals favoured the continuation of the student survey and the introduction of similar surveys for teachers and for parents.
This transition period is important because of the impact it may have on students’ engagement in learning and their sense of belonging at school. This publication examines the relationship between students’ sense of belonging and other types of engagement across the transition from primary to secondary. It includes an analysis of 12,000 students who completed surveys in Year 6, and then again in Year 7.
This decline is experienced even more by students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Between Year 6 and Year 7, there is a decline in the percentage of students who value school outcomes and those who are trying hard to succeed. Students’ sense of belonging also declines over the transition.
Students who report having a positive sense of belonging in Year 6 are more likely to have a positive sense of belonging in Year 7. Factors that help influence a student’s sense of belonging at the beginning of high school include their relationships with teachers and peers, the support they receive at school and at home, and school practice.
Primary schools should be attentive to Year 6 students’ sense of belonging and their relationships with teachers and peers, especially in the lead up to the transition. Secondary schools should develop strong, supportive student-teacher relationships as early as possible. There are more practical tips on how to do this in the publication and the Homebush West case study.
Research shows the benefit of effective teaching and student engagement. The Improving high school engagement learning curve (PDF, 1.6MB) uses data from the NSW Tell Them From Me student surveys in 2013 and 2015 to look at how students' engagement, performance and experience of classroom practices in Year 7 affect their engagement and performance in Year 9.
Learn more about the Tell Them From Me surveys.
Based on the modelling work in this publication, the following summarises the strategies that the research evidence identifies as most effective for improving engagement and achievement in Years 7-9. You can also download these strategies as a PDF (115kB)