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  What Works - The Work Program

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St Joseph’s School, Wyndham, Western Australia

The everyday business of teaching

Context | Key Focus and Strategy Plan | Literacy | Numeracy



Wyndham is the northernmost town in Western Australia and has a population of about 800. It is located 100 kilometres north of Kununurra and is a major port exporting cattle, sugar, lead, zinc and produce grown on the irrigated land around Kununurra.

St Joseph's is a coeducational Catholic primary school with an enrolment of just under 100 students, predominantly from Aboriginal families. The school's WALNA (West Australian Literacy and Numeracy Assessment) results have been improving in recent years and in 2005, for the first time, Year 3 students were above the State benchmark.

St Joseph's employs four Aboriginal Teaching Assistants (ATAs) whosmain priority is to support teaching and learning within the classroom. They are engaged in all professional development and are actively involved in weekly curriculum meetings alongside teachers. ATAs are encouraged and supported to take on a partnership role in their classroom, taking small groups and at times leading the classroom, focusing on best practice teaching and learning and outcomes for students. They also liaise with parents and families and provide community feedback.

Key Focus and Strategy Plan

In 2004, St Joseph's adopted a Key Focus and Strategy Plan, based on these beliefs.


Claire Kelly

  • High expectations promote learning and responsibility.
  • Quality teaching and learning practices improve learning for all.
  • Learning should cater for the uniqueness and giftedness of the whole person.
  • Each person has an innate and continual capacity to learn.
  • Learning should be meaningful, purposeful and relevant to our lives.

Principal Claire Kelly tells us where these beliefs came from.

What we did was to get together and brainstorm with staff and parents separately and together. The ATAs worked mostly with the parents and I took a back seat, not running the show but providing cups of tea. Sometimes it can be too daunting if it's run by teachers.

And then, after lots of meetings, we put it all together and agreed on our beliefs and Key Focus Areas for 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Our overarching focus is always motivation and retention. We say that attendance is actually about retaining the kids' interest and enthusiasm, not just about filling the seats.

The only way to get them to keep coming to school is for them to achieve success, but that's only done through hard work. You can make it easy for kids by not having high expectations, but if they're not learning they'll be bored and won't see a purpose in what they're doing. So they won't come. And that wouldn't be doing our job anyway.


Jean O'Reeri

We're a team of people who don't want excuses to be made for our kids. Some people talk about 'barriers' and our response is to say, yes, there are some barriers in relation to living in a remote community, but that's not what we're going to focus on. We're just going to be concerned with getting on and doing what we can. We want our kids to be able to do whatever's expected of kids anywhere else in the country.

Teachers are supported to implement established programs in the Key Focus Areas of literacy and numeracy, and the community is involved as well.

Jean O'Reeri is an experienced ATA:

Some parents and aunties come to early morning reading. Some are in the garden project. Some cook for barbecues. We keep the ownership of cultural things but we work hand-in-hand with the school. The community wants the school to get kids reading and writing properly.

Teacher, Maureen Farrell:


Maureen Farrell

When a new teacher comes they are given our curriculum documents. We can say 'this is what your literacy block needs to look like and this is what the reading should like and this is what the writing should look like, and these are the kinds of texts you should be using. These are the running records, this is how assessment works'. There's no confusion. The same is true for maths.


And not only that, a senior staff member will go into their classroom and work with them for at least a couple of weeks. That's the support we provide.

Literacy: It's absolutely crucial

The school believes it is developing best practice approaches to literacy learning.

  • Goal: To enable Indigenous students to attain Literacy skills to the same standard as other Australian children.
  • Target: Increase by 10% the number of children who are at or above the Statewide Benchmarks for Literacy.
  • Data Sources: School records, West Australian Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (WALNA), Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS).


Our premise is to start with what the kids know and move them from there. We spent two terms working on our literacy strategy. There were millions of staff meetings and a million informal meetings as well. Then we threw out about two and a half thousand texts. They were old things that were inappropriate but a lot were just not purposeful texts for teaching kids to read. They weren't going to help our kids become literate.

We believe there should never be a time in your classroom when there's not a purpose for what's happening. So there should never be a time that you can't articulate the reason that a particular kid is reading this particular book today. It might be because she needs support with her fluency and that's why I'm giving her a book that's easy for her to read so that's what she can concentrate on. Or it might be that she needs support with another reasoned strategy. We're starting to really be explicit about what we are trying to get kids to do.

And the kids know as well. We explain to them what we think good readers and good writers do and we want them to say it back and we want them to believe that that's who they are. Even in Year 1 they will say things like 'Miss Claire, good readers don't talk like robots', 'Good readers go back if they make a mistake and check what they're reading'. We talk about different genres for different purposes and we are about opening those up to kids. For instance, with our Big Books, we've listed the features of each one so that teachers have some help with what they can be used to teach and what can be pointed out to the kids in them.

And we do explain to kids that there's home talk and school talk and they're different. But we focus on literacy in Standard Australian English because that's what will give kids literate power and because our parents have told us that's what they want for their kids. We believe our first wave classroom teaching needs to be second to none. And then, for the kids we miss, we have our second wave intervention, Reading Recovery as well, and lots of PD for teachers.

Our goal is to enable Indigenous students to attain literacy skills to the same standard as other Australian students. So we're not saying, it's okay just to increase by five percent, we're saying that something's gone wrong if a kid's twelve and still not reading at the appropriate level.


The connection has to happen at home as well, to build on what's happening at school. So that responsibility falls on the parents, just to have an ongoing thing going on. Part of my job is to work with parents on that.

I'm very proud of my son because he's reading all his own books now. He's seven. When he was in Grade 1, I used to help him along with his bedtime story and now he just reads his own book. So I'm really happy. There must be something good happening because he has really grasped the concept of literacy. Now I know he'll just fly along.

Numeracy: It can add up

In mathematics and numeracy, St Joseph's has developed a similarly structured approach, including curriculum resources and support for teachers.

  • Goal: To enable Indigenous students to attain Numeracy skills to the same standard as other Australian children.
  • Target: Increase by 10% the number of children who are at or above the Statewide Benchmarks for Numeracy.
  • Data Sources: School records, West Australian Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (WALNA), Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS).


We use Nelson Maths and we use their assessment. We also use First Steps but Nelson is a good framework. It provides lots and lots of ideas and good teachers can pick up on those ideas.

Maths works in the classroom the same way as literacy. The planned program means that teachers do tackle the 'harder' areas. I've been around long enough to see that, when teachers are coming and going, 2-D shapes can just get repeated every year. But we make sure the whole curriculum is covered.

Parents and community tell us that's what they want — for their kids to be able to read and write and be numerate, just like other Australian kids.


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