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How high expectations and engagement in primary school drive student learning (PDF, 6.7MB)Warwick-case-study-thumbLiverpool-west-case-study-thumb

How high expectations and engagement in primary school drive student learning (PDF, 7.4MB)

Warwick Farm Public School case study (PDF, 4MB)

Liverpool West Public School case study (PDF, 5MB)

Reflection guide for school networks (PDF, 52kB)

Reflection guide for schools (PDF, 52kB)

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.


Key findings

• 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.


Practical implications

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.


Further information

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.

Published in Research report

TFFM parent survey resources

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.

Published in Research report


Blue Haven Public School case study (PDF, 1.7MB)

Blue Haven Public School professional learning discussion guide (PDF, 200kB)

Blue Haven Public School summary (PDF, 280kB)

An audio version of the case study

Blue Haven Public School's improvement journey video

An interview with the Principal, Paul McDermott

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.

Published in Case studies


Homebush West Public School case study (PDF, 400kB)

Related: The role of student engagement in the transition from primary to secondary school



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.

Published in Case studies
Thursday, 23 May 2019

Supporting school completion

Supporting school completion: The importance of engagement and effective teaching Learning Curve (PDF, 1.3MB)Supporting school completion: Resources and case studies for schools, teachers and parents/carers (PDF, 3MB)

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.


Main findings

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:

  • Developing strong teacher-student relations in the years prior to students finishing high school is an important foundation for successful post-school transition
  • Setting high expectations for all students fosters high aspirations and encourages students to work towards those aspirations
  • Providing information and support to students and parents about post-school transition broadens their awareness of available options for post-school life
  • Having dedicated resources within the school, through staff and/or ‘drop-in’ centres that students can draw on, improves students’ chances of making a successful transition.


Published in Research report

This page includes five case studies and an environmental scan about effective wellbeing practice. 

Case studies

Cecil Hills High School (PDF, 4.8MB)Penrith Valley School (PDF, 4.1MB)Rosehill Public School (PDF, 4.7MB)South Wagga Public School (PDF, 3.5MB)Trangie Central School (PDF, 2.6MB)

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'.

Cecil Hills High School (PDF, 4.8MB)

Penrith Valley School (PDF, 4.1MB)

Rosehill Public School (PDF, 4.7MB)

South Wagga Public School (PDF, 3.5MB)

Trangie Central School (PDF, 2.6MB)

The case studies are also available in audio:

Environmental scan

environmental scan (PDF, 7.9MB)

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.

Published in Case studies

Creating Culture Excellence all covers

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:

  • data collection and analysis
  • ongoing evaluation of teaching practices
  • peer support and mentoring among staff
  • interschool collaboration
  • educational leadership.


Main findings

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)

Published in Research report
Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Closing the gap case studies

case studies graphic aboriginal

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.

Aldavilla Public School (PDF, 700kB)

Ashmont Public School (PDF, 880kB)

Batemans Bay Public School (PDF, 850kB)

Doonside Public School (PDF, 1.5MB)

Westport Public School (PDF, 850kB)

Published in Research report

Sustaining Success case study (PDF, 800kB)


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:

  • high expectations
  • student engagement
  • effective teaching
  • whole-school goals
  • collaboration
  • professional learning.


How do the schools implement these practices?

Cluster 1: Quality teaching & learning

   Systems & processes  Cultures & attitudes  Programs & activities
High expectations High expectations are matched with high support.

Comprehensive student welfare and wellbeing systems.
Case management of individual students, quickly and discretely.
Structured daily routines.
Pleasant physical learning spaces.

Visibly expect success of all students.

Celebrate success and achievement for all students.
Display and promote student achievement, including with the wider community.

School values are clearly articulated and explicitly taught.

Social skills taught and reinforced regularly.
Behaviour management programs consistent across the school.
Additional academic support programs available to anyone who needs them.

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.
Build positive relationships and rapport between teachers and students.

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.

Effective teaching

Combination of both explicit and integrated approaches to teaching literacy.
Key staff take leadership of numeracy programming.
Data used to identify student gaps in numeracy skills and knowledge.
Additional teachers and School Learning Support Officers (SLSOs) to tutor students to ‘fill in gaps’ in numeracy skills and knowledge.

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).
Explicit assessments, including rubrics, feedback, student self-monitoring and explicit pathways to improvement (supports high expectations).


Cluster 2: Positive professional culture 


   Systems & processes  Cultures & attitudes  Programs & activities
School goals

Structured systems for implementing school goals: strategy, plan, implement, evaluate, embed.
Leadership team has a clear division of responsibilities for leading management of change and progress towards goals.
Good communication systems between executive and teaching staff.

A culture of evaluative thinking, where program evaluation is a routine part of school life and evidence is regularly collected and reflected upon.
A culture of collaboration, where school goals are generated through a consultative process and seen as a team effort to implement.

A consistent approach to using data to drive and monitor school goals e.g. SMART, RAP.
Professional learning is strategically linked to school goals; ongoing TPL drives school goals from vision to implementation.


Common ‘core’ teaching and learning programs across grades/KLAs, updated regularly as student needs change.
Shared release time specifically timetabled so that teachers have dedicated time to work together within the school day.

Collaborative cultures develop gradually over time through collegial and supportive relationships.
Open-door classroom culture, regular observing of each other’s lessons.
Informal, reflective conversations and ongoing sharing of ideas.
Curriculum programming is a team activity and a collective responsibility.
Collaborative planning by executive underpins teacher collaboration.

Use of technology e.g. Google docs, Sentral, shared drives, email.
Shared physical spaces e.g. combined staffroom.
Team teaching (two or more teachers working together with a single group of students).
Open committee structure, so all staff are welcome to participate.
Cross-faculty/team coordination of extracurricular activities.

Professional learning

TPL timetable planned yearly in advance, with flexibility to respond to emerging needs
TPL strategically linked to PDPs and school goals.
Innovative timetabling across schools e.g. Twilight evenings, Super Saturdays, across schools. Sustained focus on a single issue over a term.
TPL embedded into school routines, not an ‘extra’.

Open door culture of sharing resources, asking questions and seeking advice from colleagues.

Staff given some choice in TPL, interest drives engagement.
A culture of staff leading each other in TPL creates a collaborative environment and facilitates ongoing learning.

Balance between whole-school TPL and small-group learning.
High quality, external expertise brought in where appropriate.
Majority of TPL run in-house. This builds staff capacity and allows TPL to be highly tailored to school needs and contexts.


Download the summary on this page (PDF, 50kB). 

Published in Research report

ttfm case studies

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.

Published in Tell Them From Me

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