Special purpose reviews into two Canberra public schools struggling with understaffing, bullying and poor academic achievement recommend a focus on evidence-based teaching practices.
Kingsford Smith School, a preschool to year 10 school in Holt, and Margaret Hendry School, a primary school in Taylor, were the subject of separate reviews after interventions from the Education Directorate's education support office failed to deliver sustained improvements.
Executive group manager of school improvement Mark Huxley said the common issues at the school related mainly to high levels of staff absences.
"I think there was some common challenges that were at Kingsford Smith [School] are actually also present at Margaret Hendry, which is the availability of staff to implement the changes required and the ongoing improvement," Mr Huxley said.
"So I think that's the common takeaway that I'm seeing through the reports."
Kingsford Smith School suffered from higher than average staff absences last year, which peaked at 19.3 per cent in term two.
Some students reported that lessons were not engaging, with a lack of useful feedback, and that there had been a change in threatening behaviours from their peers from school-based threats to threats of catching up after school.
It found different teachers had different expectations of student behaviour, and there was an ad-hoc approach to the positive behaviours for learning program.
"Students perceive that teachers who plan quality lessons get greater student engagement," the report said.
The Kingsford Smith School review recommended it introduce teaching methods that had been proven to work, and to give staff more and better training.
Margaret Hendry School opened in 2019 with a new structure of mixed-age learning communities of students in kindergarten to year 2 and year 3 to 6.
The school had an emphasis on personalised and inquiry-based learning, however the review found that many students lacked the fundamental literacy skills to properly engage in inquiry learning.
The review recommended ensuring every teacher clearly understood the Margaret Hendry School pedagogical models, which included explicit instruction.
The review of Kingsford Smith School was conducted in November 2022 and the review of Margaret Hendry School was conducted in June 2023.
The community was initially told the reviews would not be published in full, but the Education Directorate reversed this position after The Canberra Times submitted a freedom of information request.
"[Special purpose reviews] are relatively new and releasing the full reports online will actually bring us into practice with previous ones. So that's just part of the process and we're happy to do so," Mr Huxley said.
Parents, students and staff were interviewed as part of the reviews. The review teams also analysed documentation and data and observed school routines during classroom visits.
Mr Huxley said it was too early to tell if the recent changes since the special purpose reviews had been effective at both schools.
He said the special purpose reviews were in addition to the five-yearly school review cycle.
"We see it as a strengths-based approach where we actually want to make sure we are identifying what are the needs for the schools where we haven't had sustained impact previously, and I think the [special purpose review] process is a really good way of doing that."
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