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.
With their focus on instructional leadership, explicit teaching, student wellbeing and other evidence-based practices, Blue Haven Public School has achieved rapid and substantial improvements in student academic performance. The department's strategic goals can be seen in action at Blue Haven: every student, every teacher, every leader is improving every year, and every student is known, valued and cared for.
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 page includes five case studies and an environmental scan about effective wellbeing practice.
The case studies highlight how effective wellbeing practice supports learning in local contexts. They have been prepared to assist schools to meet the department's strategic goal of 'Every student is known, valued and cared for in our schools'.
The case studies are also available in audio:
The environmental scan (PDF, 2MB) describes the structures and approaches that support student wellbeing and improve pastoral care. It includes an assessment of: current departmental practices; departmental data, trends and information; relevant state, national and international research; and current practices in a number of NSW public, independent and Catholic schools.
These case studies describe how these five NSW government schools have created and are sustaining a culture of excellence at their school.
The School Excellence Framework (SEF) describes 14 elements of high quality practice which underpin school excellence in the three domains of learning, teaching and leading. In 2016, five schools (Lansvale Public School, Rooty Hill High School, Sefton High School, Taree West Public School and Woonona High School) were identified as excelling in most of these elements. The practices of these schools are described in case studies of how individual schools create and maintain a culture of excellence. The high quality practices common to these five schools include:
All five schools maintain a culture of building educational aspiration and supporting students’ learning through a partnership between teachers, students and parents. Teachers continually monitor students’ academic progress using formative and summative assessment data (including NAPLAN and HSC data). Students are also encouraged to make personal learning plans and have discussions with teachers about where, and what, improvements are needed in their learning.
• These schools also strategically involve parents in students’ learning to ensure that learning does not stop once students leave the school grounds. By sharing responsibility for students’ learning, the schools create learning environments where students feel motivated to learn and have adequate support to reach their full learning potential.
• The case study schools emphasise staff learning and development and promote a culture of self and/or peer evaluations to improve teaching practice. Each school has professional learning systems in place that enable teachers to learn from and with each other about a range of teaching-related topics. Although schools may differ in their approach to professional learning, the goal remains the same across schools – to sustain quality teaching practice.
• To facilitate learning and development, the case study schools often form learning alliances with other schools to promote collaboration, peer learning and mentoring among teachers.
• The principals of these schools are strong educational leaders who model instructional leadership within and beyond their schools. These principals all share a common desire to build leadership capacity among their staff and often allow staff to play key roles in the making and/or enactment of school decisions.
• It is clear that not all schools that excel do so by focusing on exactly the same things, nor do they all demonstrate the same quality practices in the same way. Hence, there are many similarities between these case studies but also some differences. Before considering or adopting any of the practices discussed in these case studies, schools must first understand how contextual factors (such as ICSEA value or location) might affect outcomes. The School Excellence Framework continues to provide a reliable point of reference for schools to assess their practices each year.
The information on this page is also available as a downloadable one-page summary (PDF, 189kB).
These case studies illustrate how five NSW primary schools have achieved high learning growth for their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. This work supports the 'Closing the Gap' strategy, a Council of Australian Governments commitment.
The Sustaining Success case study (PDF, 800kB) describes how seven schools in the Fairfield Network have sustained and built on their successful educational outcomes by implementing the six effectives practices summarised in the CESE publication Six effective practices in high growth schools. The practices are:
|Systems & processes||Cultures & attitudes||Programs & activities|
|High expectations||High expectations are matched with high support.
Comprehensive student welfare and wellbeing systems.
|Visibly expect success of all students.
Celebrate success and achievement for all students.
|School values are clearly articulated and explicitly taught.
Social skills taught and reinforced regularly.
|Student engagement||Develop a strong understanding of students’ cultures and backgrounds.
Develop connections in the broader community to provide post-school opportunities and pathways for students.
|The key to engagement is a sense of belonging.
Flip disadvantage by focusing on helping others and taking a global perspective.
|Offer a wide range of extracurricular activities and programs to cater to diverse student interests.
School has to have ‘something for everyone’ – academic and/or extra-curricular – to sustain engagement.
Combination of both explicit and integrated approaches to teaching literacy.
|Data-informed programming and planning, strongly led by the school executive.
A belief that all students should be able to access the curriculum and therefore a focus on genuine curriculum differentiation.
Explicit lessons, including learning intentions, goals, feedback, student self-monitoring and explicit pathways to improvement (supports student engagement).
|Systems & processes||Cultures & attitudes||Programs & activities|
Structured systems for implementing school goals: strategy, plan, implement, evaluate, embed.
A culture of evaluative thinking, where program evaluation is a routine part of school life and evidence is regularly collected and reflected upon.
A consistent approach to using data to drive and monitor school goals e.g. SMART, RAP.
Common ‘core’ teaching and learning programs across grades/KLAs, updated regularly as student needs change.
Collaborative cultures develop gradually over time through collegial and supportive relationships.
Use of technology e.g. Google docs, Sentral, shared drives, email.
TPL timetable planned yearly in advance, with flexibility to respond to emerging needs
|Open door culture of sharing resources, asking questions and seeking advice from colleagues.
Staff given some choice in TPL, interest drives engagement.
Balance between whole-school TPL and small-group learning.
Tell Them From Me is an online survey system that assists schools to capture the views of students, teachers and parents. The following case studies highlight how a variety of government schools have used Tell Them From Me survey data to identify and make broad improvements to student engagement, wellbeing and teaching practices.
Macquarie Fields High School (PDF, 350kB) Using Tell Them From Me data as a starting point for consultation with the broader school community.
Northlakes High School (PDF, 1.4MB) Using Tell Them From Me data to identify issues and inform responses.
Berry Public School (PDF, 250kB) Using Tell Them From Me to capture student, teacher and parent voice and inform responses.
Fairvale High School (PDF, 960kB) Using Tell Them From Me to set targets for school improvement in the school plan.
Hammondville Public School (PDF, 250kB) Using Tell Them From Me to improve teaching practices.