Wayne Craig, co-author Powerful Learning, speaks to The Age
by Jewel Topsfield, March 23 The Age
FIVE years ago, the three government high schools in Broadmeadows were haemorrhaging 1000 students a year to public schools outside the area. Of those left behind, only 25 per cent who started year 7 stayed on to complete year 12. Senior Education Department bureaucrat Wayne Craig pulls no punches. ”It was a basketcase,” he says. ”If there was a bad news story about education, chances are it would come out of the north. In Broadmeadows, every school was in the bottom 5 per cent in terms of achievement measures. Areas like this were unbelievably bad, they had been neglected by government for years and years.’In 2006 David Hopkins, an education professor from the University of London, visited Melbourne’s northern metropolitan region, which comprises 195 schools from Banyule, Darebin, Hume, Moreland, Nillumbik, Whittlesea and Yarra, and was briefed on the low levels of student achievement.
In a memo to Mr Craig, who had just been appointed director of the region, Professor Hopkins recommended an ”intervention” focused on the improvement of literacy and teaching and learning. Most school reform focuses on individual schools. Initially, Mr Craig considered a pilot at one school, then he thought of extending it to six.”However, I had 100 schools in serious trouble – five or six schools wasn’t good enough,” he says.
Eventually he embarked on a massive reform program, starting with 55 schools in 2008, 82 in 2009 and the whole northern region in 2010.
This ambitious intervention is the subject of a new book, Powerful Learning, co-written by Mr Craig, Professor Hopkins and John Munro. It outlines how teachers were selected from the 195 schools for training focusing on literacy, numeracy, student management and assessment. These teachers then became coaches in their own schools.
Teachers were also given access to data that enabled them to track students’ progress.
Some of the interventions were more radical. Fawkner Secondary College and Box Forest Secondary College closed on December 31, 2009, and reopened the following year with new names, new uniforms, new programs and new staff.
”This had never been done before in Victoria, but the schools had given up – they were going to just wither and die,” Mr Craig says.
Teachers had to reapply for their jobs. Forty-three per cent of the teachers were new when John Fawkner College opened in 2010 and 35 per cent were new when Glenroy College opened.
Three years after the reform began, every set of data is improving in the region, including VCE and NAPLAN results, attendance, staff, student and parent opinion surveys and retention. ”We’ve made massive gains – the NAPLAN results across the region are at the state average in literacy and numeracy in years 3 and 5. We are a bit off the pace in numeracy in year 7 and are closing in [on the state average] in literacy and numeracy in year 9.”
Powerful Learning is no fairy story. It points out literacy has improved faster than numeracy and primary schools have made greater gains than secondary.
Mr Craig admits to reservations about writing the book. ”We’ve made a lot of progress, but the job is not actually done,” he says. ”I was worried the book could be a distraction or seen as an element of hubris or complacency.” He decided to proceed, both because he believes Powerful Learning has value as a textbook on school reform and to celebrate the achievements.
”What I’m most proud of is that we have altered the trajectories of thousands of kids. It’s not my work, it’s the work of teachers and principals.”
Powerful Learning will be launched tomorrow at 6pm at the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre by Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s deputy chief of staff, Tom Bentley.