Kambrya College, located in the town of Berwick in south-east Melbourne, will soon be the centrepiece of an extraordinary story – due to be aired on ABC TV through a four-part series on May 31.
The four-part series – called Revolution School – explores in-depth what the school has managed to achieve against daunting odds.
In 2008, despite having been opened for just six years, the school was ranked in the bottom 10% of schools in Victoria, based on its Year 12 scores.
Today, with more than 1,100 students from 42 different nationalities, Kambrya has both high and low achievers, as well as students who are struggling with serious behavioural difficulties and learning challenges.
However, the school’s principal, Michael Muscat, and his assistant principal, have made strides in turning the school’s fortunes around through putting into practice the research of world-renowned education expert, professor John Hattie.
The school’s motto – ‘Maximising the potential of each student’ – is now more of a boast than an aspiration.
Over the past four years, Kambrya’s Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) median study score has placed it among the top 25-30% of state schools in Victoria.
“This reflects the fantastic work of all teachers in the school. And we genuinely believe that our students are capable of further improvement,” Muscat told The Educator.
“In 2008, Kambrya College was a dysfunctional and chaotic school, so in that year, a new leadership team embarked on the excruciating process of rebuilding.
“We selected the Zbar/Kimber/Marshall model of school improvement and immediately commenced work on the ‘Preconditions for Improvement’.”
Muscat said this model focused on building strong and stable leadership with a shared vision, establishing an orderly learning environment, focusing on what matters most and building teacher efficacy.
“A sustained effort and focus was put into developing these areas over a four year period. By 2012, a clear trajectory towards improved student learning outcomes was evident in both NAPLAN and the VCE,” he said.
However, Muscat’s bold educational experiment is still very much a work in progress – and this is one of the things that appealed to prominent Australian filmmaker, Michael Cordell, who went on to make the film, due to be aired on May 31.
‘Ordinary’ school – extraordinary story
Michael Cordell, who is behind films such as Bondi, The Track and Drama School, told The Educator that the fundamental intent of the series was to find an ‘ordinary’ school that was doing exciting things.
“We followed the compelling stories of students, parents, and teachers from the school over a full school year, and this project was motivated by the depressing fact that education in Australia is slipping behind in comparison to other developed countries,” he said.
“We really wanted to do something that helped showed the way forward and which could be an inspiration for our education system.”
Cordell worked very closely with Kambrya College’s leadership in the lead-up to the filming of the series and said the school was chosen for its against-all-odds improvement.
“What principal Michael Muscat and the assistant principal did for Kambrya was extraordinarily brave.
They’ve been very cooperative and transparent about the issues at their school and how they’re working to overcome them,” he said.
Focusing on the ‘big picture issues’ of education
Cordell said the film blends the “intimate and emotional stories” of teachers and students with the “bigger picture issues” of education.
“Episode one includes a troubled student who is a teenage girl going through a lot of issues. On one level it’s a powerful story, but it’s made even more powerful when you learn that 25% of Australian kids don’t finish Year 10 and that we have one of the highest dropout rates in the world,” he said.
“This is ultimately a story of great hope – one which shows that strong leadership, great teaching and focusing on things that have been proven through research to work, make a huge difference to any school.
“Whether it’s a high performing school that’s already doing well, or a struggling school, this series shows that we can all improve when we put these things into practice.”