Section CSchool improvement planning and implementation

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External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School   Page 1 of 12
Record of Validation Process
The following people were members of the external validation panel for Black Mountain School
conducted on 7th and 10th September 2012

                         Name                                              School

 Julie Murkins                                            Lake Tuggeranong College

 Marla Bornholt                                           Farrer Primary School

 Kerri Clark                                              Hughes Primary School

As chair of the panel I endorse that this is a true and accurate record of the findings from the
external validation process.

Name: Julie Murkins                                      Signature: _____________________________

Date:         September 2012

As acting principal of Black Mountain School I accept the Validation Report on behalf of the
school community.

Name: Greg Wagg                                          Signature: _____________________________

Date:         September 2012

As co-director of Quality Learning Australia, external validators for the conduct of validation
process in ACT public schools, I concur that the panel acted within the guidelines set by the ACT
Education and Training Directorate.

Name: Michael King                                       Signature: _____________________________

Date:         September 2012

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                     Page 2 of 12
Section A: School context
Black Mountain School (BMS) opened in 1955. It is a specialist secondary school (Years 7 – 12)
providing a functional curriculum to support students with a moderate to severe intellectual
disability (MSID). It delivers a quality, individualised education providing social, life and work
skills that facilitate students’ participation in a full and satisfying post-school life.
Since 2010, BMS has operated at full capacity, with approximately 110 students each year, all
with a MSID and many with additional diagnoses such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD),
physical disability, communication difficulties and/or complex medical conditions. In 2012, there
are 43 female and 71 male students at BMS ranging in age from 12 to 20 years. There are five
Indigenous students, as well as students from diverse cultural backgrounds – some of whom are
recent arrivals to Australia. Students come from all suburbs of Canberra and from Queanbeyan.
The staff comprises 30 teachers, 33 Learning Support Assistants (LSA), a Pastoral Care
Coordinator three part-time nurses and part time school counselor, Youth Support Worker, and
school chaplain. Physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and volunteers
support the functioning of the school. Specialists in special education, communication, adaptive
technology, the dramatic and visual arts, music, vocational education and hydrotherapy also
contribute to the school environment.
At BMS, teachers strive to make real life links through the curriculum. For some students, this
may be participating in leisure activities or learning behaviours appropriate for community
activities, while others are linked into work education programs, such as hospitality or
horticulture. Programs designed to promote learning in a range of environments help to
maximize the successful transition into post-school life for all students.
The school’s physical design is deliberate: internal and external spaces support the well-being
and the learning of students. A number of classrooms have sensory areas.
The school has undergone considerable contextual change over the last three years. Firstly,
there has been significant turnover in staff: the school has experienced an influx of new
educators, high levels of turnover in the school executive, and unplanned loss of staff. Beyond
the school’s own staffing changes, BMS is impacted upon by the lack of available relief staff.
The school has adopted Professional Learning Communities as a means to deliver whole school
improvement of planning and pedagogy. An associated revision of key planning documents,
including new Individualised Learning Plans (ILPs), programming and reporting documents, has
resulted in an implementation dip while the consolidation of knowledge has occurred.
A change in the ETD Enterprise Agreement has aligned BMS with all other Category 4+ schools,
which afforded the school a third School Leader C. This has allowed additional capacity for the
school’s leadership team to drive improvement in a more effective manner.
A change in the assigning of teachers to particular classes has occurred and the model of having
co-teachers work with the class teacher on planning and reporting has added a further
opportunity for professional growth and the sharing of responsibilities.
For the majority of the improvement cycle, the school has been seeking the appointment of a
Pastoral Care Coordinator to strengthen the core work of the Pastoral Care Team. This has now

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                    Page 3 of 12
Policy uncertainty with regard to Years 13 and 14 has created difficulties for the school and
future planning cycles. Coupled with the yet-to-be-defined National Disability Insurance Scheme,
considerable pressure is being experienced by families of BMS students.
Changes in Directorate School Improvement processes occurred in this cycle, resulting in a
merging of eight school priorities to four.

Section B: School performance
All learning and teaching at Black Mountain School is based on individualised planning against a
functional curriculum. The process begins with the collaborative development of a Personalised
Future Action Plan (PFAP). This feeds into an Individualised Learning Plan (ILP), which articulates
short- and long-term goals. Teachers document the teaching strategies in BMS Program Forms –
standarised programming templates. Reporting student achievement occurs twice a year in BMS
student reports and the annual sharing of Student Portfolios.
Throughout the improvement cycle, there has been universal adoption of high quality PFAPs and
ILPs. The school set itself an ambitious target of 100% documentation of Program Forms to
accompany each ILP. Whilst achievement against this target has been hampered by high levels
of staff turnover and inexperience, it has undergone an increase from 11% in 2010 to an
anticipated 50% at the end of 2012.
System testing is unable to be used at Black Mountain School, and comparisons between
students cannot be made across cohorts or between students. As a result of this context, the
most significant evidence to demonstrate school improvement in student learning outcomes is
the steady increase in student achievement of ILP goals. Across the improvement cycle
described in this report, these levels of attainment are:

         End of year 2010           End of year 2011     Mid year 2012     Expected 2012

              53.7%                       59%               38.4%               70%

Based on past evidence and current effort, the panel is confident that the school’s projection for
the end of 2012 will be met.
Black Mountain School has underpinned its school improvement processes with thorough
reference to current evidence-based research and best practice.
The school makes use of system and locally-generated process data sets. Surveys of all
stakeholder groups have been developed and used by the school to test the effectiveness of
strategies adopted throughout the improvement cycle.
Staff have undergone a range of surveying: system surveys reflect an implementation dip
ascribed to the scope of change in school practices; locally-developed surveys provide more fine
grain responses to the specific impacts of these changes and describe increasing levels of
confidence in their ability to design and deliver high quality individualised programs. The
strategies that are demonstrably contributing to this include the adoption of a comprehensive
induction program and of regular coaching sessions. The advent of the co-teacher function has
also been identified as having a positive impact in the classrooms.

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                     Page 4 of 12
Black Mountain School recognises the particular challenges it faces in delivering upon agreed
school improvement goals. The most obvious of these is the constant turnover of staff and the
relatively high proportion of new educators at the school. The BMS induction program allows
the school to be confident that all staff are being exposed regularly to high quality professional
learning specific to the school’s context.
The school is regularly reflecting upon external factors which impact on school performance.

Evidence cited and its validation
Black Mountain School produces a wide range of evidence in support of its performance against
Examples of evidence cited by the panel include:
        Statistics of achievement of ILP goals
        Raw data from regular staff meetings and surveys
        Anecdotal evidence from staff and community (interviews Sept 2012)
        Suite of PFAP, ILP, Profile and Portfolio documents
        System satisfaction surveys and data.
The panel notes that a culture exists within Black Mountain School which allows the leadership
team to test the effectiveness of improvement strategies: future cycles would benefit from
focusing on fewer, carefully programmed and more strategic data collections.

Section C: School improvement planning and implementation
PART 1: Improvement planning
Over the three year improvement cycle, the school has identified specific priorities for
improvement, based on recommendations in the 2008 External Validation Report and
consultation with the school community (staff, parent/carers, school board and service
providers) through such tools as the self-assessment matrix and school satisfaction survey. The
2010 to 2012 strategic plan was written, outlining eight priorities. In the latter half of 2010,
these were further refined to four key priorities that would more explicitly articulate the
school’s direction.
The four strategic priorities arrived at were:
Strategic Priority 1: Improve learning outcomes through quality pedagogy.
Strategic Priority 2: Improve transition pathways for all students.
Strategic Priority 3: The school’s vision is reflected and articulated in school policies, procedures
and practices.
Strategic Priority 4: Education environments are supportive and meet the needs of all students.
All actions at the school are based on a Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle of continuous improvement. At
the beginning of each year, teachers are assigned to School Improvement Framework (SIF)
teams based on area of expertise and preference. Meetings are held fortnightly to ensure
actions can be progressed. In Term 4, each SIF team provides detailed analyses and progress

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                     Page 5 of 12
against each priority. Recommendations are made towards the following year’s Annual
Operational Plan (AOP).

Evidence cited and its validation
The External Validation Panel endorses the BMS school cycle of improvement planning and the
use it makes of the PDSA cycle. It is evident that the school’s previous cycle of improvement
informed its Annual Operational Plans for 2010, 2011 and 2012, and that the careful
interpretation of School Satisfaction survey data, and teacher and parent/ carer surveys guided
the decisions articulated in these plans.
The panel acknowledges the significant array of locally-generated data to inform school
improvement: in the next school improvement cycle, the school may find value in automating
and streamlining the data collection process.
Evidence cited includes:
        AOP 2010, 2011, 2012
        Plan Do Study Act cycles
        School Satisfaction survey data
        Revised School Plan
        Parent/Carer 2010 Survey
        Teacher 2010 survey
        Induction modules
        Pedagogical Coaching research.

Section C: School improvement planning and implementation
PART 2: Improvement actions

Priority 1 – Improve learning outcomes through quality pedagogy
Black Mountain School has placed quality pedagogy at the centre of the school’s improvement
journey. This has been arrived at through a process of reflecting upon previous priorities and
outcomes and is built upon well researched methodologies. Performance measures are clearly
articulated and supported by a range of evidence sources.
Student learning outcomes are measured in terms relative to the student’s individualised
learning program and the extent to which their learning goals are being met. The school believes
that by focusing on quality pedagogy, student learning outcomes will be improved. The school is
achieving high levels of goal attainment.
The core strategies adopted are referenced to three systems designed to build continuous
quality improvement: adopting a cyclical review of the school’s priorities; embedding
Professional Learning Communities as a vehicle for reflection and growth by staff; and
developing standardised pedagogy through quality induction and professional learning.

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                Page 6 of 12
Evidence cited and its validation
Evidence exists to validate the contribution made by strategies in support of this priority.
In its first year of implementation, the co-teacher staffing model is showing evidence of a change
in pedagogy by staff. A survey of its effectiveness indicates over 80% of teachers believe it is
having a positive impact on their teaching. Consolidation of this approach will allow further
finessing of the impact on learning for students.
A range of data sources show the effectiveness of the coaching and the induction programs. The
panel acknowledges the importance of systematic teacher professional learning in an
environment of high staff turnover and relative inexperience. Teacher confidence in adopting
and reporting on the Black Mountain School curriculum has grown over time and sits at 64.7% in
Specific evidence sources cited by the panel include:
        ILP goal attainment (grown from 53.7% in 2010 to 70% in 2012)
        AOP 2010, 2011, 2012
        Teacher confidence and feasibility levels survey results (2010-2012)
        Longitudinal Study into ‘Promoting Research-based Practice by Teachers of Students with
         High Support Needs’ (Stephenson and Carter, Macquarie University)
        Induction modules
        Teacher and LSA interviews (Sept 2012)
        Staff survey instruments and data (raw data and analysis documentation).

Priority 2 – Improve transition pathways for all students
Black Mountain School set itself two key performance measures against this priority: firstly, high
targets in aligning documentation to agreed standards; and secondly, building staff knowledge
and awareness of post-school options for students.
The school has achieved considerable success against the first measure, with universal alignment
of school templates and student portfolios. BMS continues to fine tune the Student Profile – a
comprehensive document describing student needs and skills. The panel supports the school’s
intent to streamline and align the existing template with the PFAP.
In 2010, the school identified that the majority of staff felt they had inadequate knowledge
about post-school transition for students and their families. Over the course of the improvement
cycle the school has adopted a range of strategies and partnerships aimed at increasing the
quality of transition arrangements. As of mid 2012, staff confidence levels are still below the
target of 50% ‘moderate’ or ‘very’ confident.
The panel noted significant external factors impacting on the school’s ability to meet their
targets, specifically, the ongoing uncertainty of graduating students attaining a suitable post-
school experience, and the challenge of constantly refreshing up-to-date information about
post-school destinations.

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                   Page 7 of 12
The panel validated the range of program-based initiatives in support of student transition skills
and the effect these are having on attainment of ILP goals. Of specific note are ArtWork
Education, Hospitality, Horticulture, Recycling and Sustainability and Office Skills.

Evidence cited and its validation
The panel validates the work of the school in improving transition pathways for its students,
particularly post-destination pathways. Further work is planned to enhance the quality of the
transition into Black Mountain School.
Evidence provided to the panel includes:
        Draft flowchart of post-school options
        2010 – 12 Internal staff survey results
        Statistics capturing visits/attendance by external agencies
        Program documents.

Priority 3 – The school’s vision is reflected and articulated in school policies, procedures and
Black Mountain School has invested considerable time and effort defining the school’s vision and
aligning policies, practices and procedures. Evidence exists across the school of the embedding
of the school’s vision. The school’s System Map presents this work in a clear and succinct
Aligning policies, practices and procedures has been facilitated through the implementation of
Professional Learning Communities. With it has come:
        clarity of roles and responsibilities and the equitable sharing of the workload of program
         writing and report writing;
        increased levels of staff satisfaction with collaboration, goal statements, leadership,
         curriculum, School Improvement Planning, research and results (based on five-point
         rating scale) over the improvement cycle;
        challenges in maintaining staff satisfaction with school communication processes during
         times of change. Surveys suggest that there has been an implementation dip with
         satisfaction levels moving from 63% in 2010, to 50 % in 2011 and 63% in 2012; and
        improvements in the quality of ILPs and student reports and in the proportion of ILP goal
The panel noted a strong intent within the school to document processes thoroughly and to
continually assess the quality of those documents. The school is conscious of the unfinished
work surrounding the Student Profile.

Evidence cited and its validation
The school has drawn upon system and local survey instruments as well as the use of the
thirteen elements of Professional Learning Communities (Eaker, Dufour & Dufour 2009) to

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                    Page 8 of 12
assess its progress against this priority. Progress can be validated by the results of these
Specific evidence cited by the panel includes:
        Staff Satisfaction Surveys (system surveys 2010, 2011 and 2012) and BMS staff surveys
         on workplace safety and communication 2010, 2011, and 2012.
        Black Mountain School system map
        Whole School Responsibilities
        Executive On Call timetable.

Priority 4 – Education environments are supportive and meet the needs of all students.
The school implemented two key improvement strategies in support of this priority: adopting
school-wide practices and procedures for behaviour support and developing a strategic
approach to enhanced playground systems.
The work of the Pastoral Care Team is visible and quantifiable in the daily operations of the
school. This visibility has led to increasing awareness by parents/carers of the role of the team,
improving by 23% over the past three years. Similarly, staff perception of the levels of support in
the school surrounding student behaviour management has increased from 72% in 2010, to 88%
in 2011. These levels are expected to be maintained or exceeded in 2012, reflecting the work
being carried out in support of positive behaviour planning and staff training. Specific strategies
        Recent appointment of a Pastoral Care Coordinator to the Executive team
        Adopting the Team-Teach Australia model of managing high risk situations
        Establishing Executive support protocols
        Exposing staff to SoSAFE! (SHFPACT’s social safety and sexuality training for young people
         with disabilities); and
        Including all staff in the development of an ‘Emotional Toolbox’ which includes a range of
         teaching strategies that can be used to manage emotions in socially acceptable ways.
The school has also taken a strategic whole school approach to the way the physical space is
used. Playground areas are assigned based on social, behavioural and/medical needs and staff
are rostered to specific areas to build familiarity with the confidence of students in those areas.
The school is able to collect and analyse data on the active engagement of students in their
assigned area and the sustained nature of that engagement.

Evidence cited and its validation
The school is drawing upon locally-generated data to support its progress against this priority.
Evidence exists to validate targets set, including:
        universal Positive Behaviour Support plans for identified students; and
        credible and significant improvement in the levels of active engagement by students in
         leisure activities.

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                    Page 9 of 12
Further examples of evidence cited by the panel include:
        Parent/carer awareness of the roles of the pastoral care team – survey
        Draft system map for pastoral care
        Positive Behaviour Support plans
        Staff duty rosters
        Analysis of student engagement during break times
        Major works program.

Section C: School improvement planning and implementation
PART 3: Reflection
There is a culture of reflection at Black Mountain School.
The school has commented on the value of focusing on fewer priorities (having a ‘skinny’ plan)
and on the challenge of setting quantifiable targets related to student learning outcomes.
The panel found evidence of the broad range of recommendations from the previous
improvement cycle. This led to a comprehensive planning approach being taken by the school
leadership team. The original School Improvement Plan contained eight priority areas. System-
wide changes resulted in this being reduced to four. Coupled with shortening the cycle from four
to three years has meant that some priority areas are still to realise their targets. The school is
aware of these factors and their impact.
A major improvement strategy overarching all four priorities has been the adoption of
Professional Learning Communities. This involves all stakeholders in a collaborative and
professional discussion about achieving school goals. As a result, throughout the school there is
greater ownership of Annual Operating Plans and the imperative to produce positive change.

Evidence cited and its validation
Ample evidence exists in the school community of a thorough school improvement focus.
Examples cited by the panel include:
        merging of eight priorities into four
        PDSA cycle documentation
        Teacher, Parent/Carer surveys
        Critical friend input e.g. Macquarie University longitudinal study (Stephenson and Carter)
         and pedagogical coaching training
Evidence also exists of the barriers which have affected the school’s capacity to realise all of its
goals. The 2012 Annual Operating Plan articulates strategies to reduce the impact of these
barriers. The school has a strong sense of where it needs to focus its attention in the next
improvement cycle.

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                    Page 10 of 12
Section D: Commendations and recommendations
The panel thanks the school for providing an open and welcoming environment for the conduct
of this validation process. In arriving at a set of commendations, the panel was able to clearly
identify an area of strength in each of the four priority areas of the current school improvement
plan. This speaks to the efficacy of the school’s improvement efforts.
The school is to be commended for the following initiatives:
    1. The successful development of a Professional Learning Community guiding professional
       growth. This has set the foundation for a professional climate in the school which in turn
       is driving improvements in pedagogy.
    2. Integrating the Functional Curriculum with a futures focus, thereby supporting student
       transition beyond school. The school vision and mission statements are reflected in the
       curriculum and in the day-to-day deliberate actions of the staff.
    3. Adopting consistency in school policies, procedures and practices, including aligning of
       documentation. This has been important in providing continuity and high expectations
       for the many new staff at the school.
    4. Providing a safe and supportive environment for staff and students. This is critical to the
       ongoing success of students and in continuing to realise the school’s mission for families.

The panel recognises the particular context in which Black Mountain School exists and
acknowledges the uncertainties facing families as their young people end their formal school
experience. In many ways this informs the next set of school priorities.
Two major strategic challenges emerge for Black Mountain School: the alignment of its
Functional Curriculum with that of the Australian Curriculum; and the impact of the introduction
of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The panel distils its recommendations into three core domains:
1. Curriculum: Maintain the primacy of the Functional Curriculum as preparation for the post-
school life of Black Mountain School students. Work on Transition Profiles, explore opportunities
for the expansion of community partnerships, and continue providing access to information for
staff and for families.
2. Assessment for and of Learning: Having a focus on tracking student growth from pre-entry to
post-school destinations. This requires the school community to make a decision on the future
purpose and form of the Student Profile as well as providing the impetus to reach back into
feeder schools for meaningful student learning data. It also requires continued focus on the
value of the Program Forms to support ILP goals.
3. Planning for the Next Improvement Cycle: The panel recommends that the school continue to
streamline the number of priorities it identifies each year. This will facilitate greater levels of
focus on strategic improvement areas. It will also allow the school to reduce the frequency and
intensity of data collection. Many of the current priorities can now move into the maintenance
phase as accepted routines within the school, for example, aligning of documentation, the

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                  Page 11 of 12
content of induction modules, defining roles and responsibilities, staff well-being, the coaching
and co-teacher models.
The panel believes the school is well placed to design and deliver against these

External Validation Report 2012: Black Mountain School                                 Page 12 of 12

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