Principal uses neuroscience to turn school’s fortunes around

Broadmeadows Primary School, located in Melbourne's north-west, is ranked in the lowest 12th percentile for socio-economic disadvantage.

However, after employing a new teaching and learning model, the school now has the highest NAPLAN grades for its entire area.

This turnaround is the result of neuroscience research put into action by the school’s principal, Keith McDougal, who is now being contacted by private schools who want to explore the program.

McDougal – who had previously struggled to lift student outcomes at his school – decided to implement the program after observing the success of similar models used in the US and New Zealand.

"We felt like we'd reached a glass ceiling with our academic performance, with our children," McDougal told the ABC.

"We'd tried various things to punch through that, and nothing seemed to be working."

To put his plan into action, McDougal sought the help of Mimma Mason, a neuroscientist at the clinical division of the educational company, Pearson. Mason said the model recognised student psychology and addressed the issues that hindered better learning.

"You can't think when you're stressed, you can't learn when you're anxious and that's one of the primary principles of the neuroscience - if you don't belong and feel safe it interferes with your learning," Mason said.

"I don't know of any other school that's done as much in a short space of time and immersed their own staff in it as extensively as Broadmeadows."

Some of the methods the school now employs include teachers at the school wearing a "learning goal" badge every day and having a permanent speech pathologist and psychologist on site.

Part of the school’s new model involves micromanaging student performance and well-being, from how they’re progressing in literacy to how well they eat and how much sleep they get each night. Contracts are even drawn up between teachers and parents to ensure the targets are met.

McDougal said he was not going to let his school’s location in a low-socioeconomic area decide the future of his students.

"There's a standard line that we have here, that the 3047 postcode does not determine your destiny," McDougal said.
"Where you start doesn't matter - it's where you end up that counts."