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  What Works - The Work Program

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St Joseph’s College, Geelong, Victoria

Strategic planning and flexible curriculum

ContextWhat Works at St Joseph’sHosting students from Arnhem Land




St Joseph’s is a large Catholic boys’ college in Geelong that is based on the Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) philosophy, shared by the 40 EREA schools across Australia. There is an emphasis on service to others and the school has a corresponding Shared Vision. The school recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The school has a history of celebrating Reconciliation Week, acknowledging country and flying the Aboriginal flag. It has also developed a connection with the local Wauthaurong Aboriginal centre. As well, 15 Year 10 boys and three staff visit Daly River in the Northern Territory every September.

The school intake area can be described roughly as a 50 kilometre circle around Geelong. In a total school population of about 1440, there are just 15 Indigenous students in 2011 and they are spread across all year levels. Two Year 11 students and one Year 10 student from Arnhem Land have been sponsored to come to St Joseph’s in 2011.

What Works at St Joseph’s


Indigenous Education Committee (l to r): Rob Blackley, Anthony Chapman and Lauren Flint with John Sloan (What Works facilitator)

In 2008 EREA conducted a review of St Joseph’s. It identified a number of positive directions the school was taking in Indigenous education, but suggested further innovation.

The school took the opportunity to create an Indigenous education team. In 2011 the committee comprises Rob Blackley (Director of Curriculum), Anthony Chapman (Director of Mission) and Lauren Flint (Cross-Cultural Coordinator).

Lauren talks about how the school became involved with What Works.


I was at a professional learning event at Wauthaurong [Aboriginal Cooperative in Geelong] and I found out about What Works from Sandra Brogden [What Works Joint National Coordinator].  It seemed that the What Works Workbook fitted very well with what we were doing, so we made contact afterwards and were able to get John Sloan to help us work through the process. We thought it would help us to coordinate and focus our activities.

During the first half of 2011, St Joseph’s worked through the What Works Workbook with facilitator John Sloan. Initially four sessions were planned, but this was later extended to six. These sessions were discussion and planning events and the implementation work was done in between sessions by the committee members and other staff.


We had a lot of ideas about things we wanted to do, but having John [Sloan] here was a good chance for us to pull it all together into a plan of attack. Using the Workbook makes it quite simple and orderly and we just followed it through. As teachers, having set tasks and times to do them made it a lot easier for us. It’s helpful to have someone from outside the school to come in and help you keep focused on what you want to achieve.

There has been a lot of energy and enthusiasm generated in the school through this. A lot of people want to help and there is a lot of good will.

As suggested in the Workbook, three goals were set and each had one, specific associated target. At the time of writing, progress towards all targets was good.

What Works goals and targets

Goal 1: To improve Year 12 completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who commence Year 11.

Target 1: Successful completion of VCE for the two Year 12 Aboriginal students and retention of the two Year 11 Aboriginal students into Year 12 in 2012.

Goal 2: To Improve Literacy levels of Year 7 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Target 2: Year 7 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reading and Writing NAPLAN results to be above National on the 2011 NAPLAN tests.

Goal 3: To foster school engagement by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Target 3: All year 7 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to record a high satisfaction level on the school generated survey to measure engagement.

Look at the complete planning document...

Personalised Learning Plans

One of the actions undertaken for Goal 1 was to ensure that Personalised Learning Plans (PLPs) were developed for all Indigenous students.


One of the most valuable things we did was to develop Personalised Learning Plans and meet the families in that context. Almost all of them were happy to come and have a chat about it, and the kids felt special and enjoyed the attention. As teachers, we learned some amazing things about our kids that we couldn’t possibly have known otherwise.

We based the PLPs on the What Works concept, but we didn’t copy any particular model. Some students have had two or three meetings to work on their PLP, others only needed one. We will make sure that we meet the families like this at least twice each year.


Goal 2 is about literacy in Year 7, and again the PLPs were useful. Although the target was expressed in terms of NAPLAN outcomes, ‘on demand’ testing was used for day-to-day reading assessment, and ATAS tutoring was also provided.

On demand testing has been a useful tool because it monitors progress along the way, and helps students understand where more work is needed. Teachers have found that this way of monitoring is really effective right across their classes, so it has benefited all the boys. It has also been discussed with parents.

We definitely don’t see Aboriginal kids as being only good at football! We know they can achieve as well as anyone, and we promote that. The Year 12 students will quite likely go on to further study.

Although not mentioned specifically in the What Works planning, similar approaches have proved successful in numeracy.

Hosting students from Arnhem Land




Two years ago we were discussing how we could open the school up to Indigenous boys from remote communities. We really wrestled with the idea of pulling the kids out of their communities. Was it the right thing to do? We weren’t sure.

Then we were approached by the Marrma’ Rom Foundation, which is a leadership program for young people from Yirrkala in the Northern territory, and this year four young men came down. They are from strong families who are really behind the program.

The boys are in Years 10 and 11 and they live here with the Foundation’s Cameron Begg and his partner Melissa, who are former teachers at Yirrkala.  Three boys are now studying for the VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) at St Joseph’s and one is doing Certificate 2 Conservation and Land Management, and works one day each week at the school as part of his course.


Academically, the boys need a lot of help with literacy and numeracy, and the school has had to deal with that. We’ve tried to get all the teachers to realise that these kids have specific needs in the classroom and that just because they’re behaving themselves doesn’t mean they understand everything that’s going on. They need appropriate teaching strategies.

Initially, we had a round table meeting with all the teachers, and Cameron explained where the boys were from and gave some background. We’re about to have another meeting of that kind, where teachers can discuss progress and raise any issues about learning.




In first term we really wanted them to feel happy and safe and connected and I think, together, we’ve achieved that. Now we’ve moved on to the academic support they need. We’ve managed to give them individual support in literacy and numeracy, and this involves some withdrawal from other classes. Fortunately, for their literacy support, we’ve been able to place them with a teacher who is studying Linguistics.

Homework has been an issue, not because they don’t do it but because I want to make it meaningful rather than just spending time with books. So they have extra support time at school, to work through ‘homework’, and then they have extra literacy classes at home with Cameron and Melissa. That’s just one example of how we’ve been flexible with the timetable, so that the boys get the education they need. It’s not just about them fitting in with us, it’s about the school being flexible to suit their needs.

We need to work more on this, though, and the boys are here for two years so we have the opportunity to work consistently with them.

VCAL is very hands-on, and students have to do a major project. These boys want to teach some Arnhem Land culture to younger kids, so they’re coming up with a presentation and they’re going to teach the didgeridoo and teach some painting. They really want to do it; it wasn’t my suggestion. I told them they didn’t have to touch on culture if they didn’t want to.


Our Principal, Paul Tobias, has been extremely supportive and committed to this in terms of providing the resources we need. But for us as a management team, it’s a challenge to make sure we embrace the good will and passion of Lauren and others, but don’t count on work over and above a reasonable expectation.


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