But all must adhere to a behavioural code that respects every other student’s right to learn, or face disciplinary consequences.
At Bayside P-12 College in Newport, VCE students are encouraged to stick with the pathways they selected in year 10, even when the going gets tough.
“We make it hard for our students to leave programs that they initially joined, and the reason for that is, we are constantly challenging them,” senior campus principal Milan Matejin said.
“Sixteen is still a young age whether they think so or not, and we are asking them to choose life.”
Successful schools give students freedom to pursue their passions, rather than try to fit them into a mould.
Specialist senior school Northern College of the Arts and Technology attracts students who are driven to work in one field, such as visual arts, dance, or a trade. Many enrol because they have been frustrated by their previous school’s inability to support them.
”We’ve had students who were disengaged at their last school. They weren’t going, and their attendance was pretty poor. Then they’ve come here, and their attendance goes back to normal,” principal Raffaela Galati-Brown said.
But the school also offers general VCE subjects and has made a concerted effort over the past decade to improve its results in those subjects. The effort has delivered a lift not just in academic results, but in arts and technology subjects, too.
Strong relationships between teachers and students
At Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar, teachers don’t badger students about their homework.
A relationship of trust exists, where it’s assumed that students are equally invested in getting the most out of themselves.
But the approach is far from hands-off. Indeed, it is demanding. One-on-one tutoring sessions at lunchtime and private lessons are par for the course.
A willingness to change
Seven years ago, St Joseph’s College, Echuca, was unhappy with its results, so staff took on the challenge of being better.
This included further study, collaboration with other schools, and taking on the work of being VCE exam assessors.
Principal Anne Marie Cairns said there was a hunger for improvement among teaching staff, who were willing to change their own working methods to better prepare students for VCE, including shifting from year 12 to younger year levels.
Similarly, Templestowe College was once a struggling school, outshone by its neighbours, with below average VCE results and shrinking enrolments.
The school took a huge gamble, giving its students licence to reject the ATAR entirely, and focus on their passions without worrying about academic results. The experiment rejuvenated the school, which is now growing rapidly and, perhaps ironically, achieving better results.
Jordana Hunter, education program director at the Grattan Institute, says it should not be underestimated how difficult it is to change a school. Principals, teachers and the broader school community all need to be on board.
“Change doesn’t just happen,” Hunter said. “Improvement will always require hard trade-offs, but it’s worth it in the end to boost student outcomes and make teaching more rewarding.”
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