From the Principal

Good or Great Schools – What Makes the Difference

“Australia has more school choice than most countries in the world. The idea goes like this: if you don’t confine enrolments to the local public school, and parents are free to move their child into any school they like across the public, private and Catholic sectors, all schools will have to work harder to compete for students by lifting their results. The Guardian

Parents choose for their own child. Everyone hopes their school will help their child find their strengths and thrive. The “ideal school” for most families is most likely one that provides an inclusive education: it caters for the gifted and talented kids, but is inclusive for kids with disabilities too.

At St Columba, we constantly reflect on our performance, think about how we can do better and look at the research that might guide us to becoming a school that offers and sustains a truly excellent education for our students.

So, what are the things that make a difference between a good school and one that achieves excellence in education?

The New South Wales Department of Education specify five categories of excellence in their School Excellence Framework:

1. Culture: A clear set of values and beliefs that is practised and reinforced by all authorities in the school. A school that achieves excellence sets out their expectations for students, staff and parents – and they communicate that message regularly to their community.

2. Wellbeing: This relates to the collective and individual needs of students including, but not limited to, psychological, physiological, belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation. Wellbeing in schools revolves around the key ways that different groups can come together, get involved and be fulfilled in their learning journey.

3. Curriculum and Learning: This is a structured plan of action that delivers a high standard and equitable academic opportunities for students. The NSW Department of Education states that, “curriculum programs and teaching practices effectively develop the knowledge, understanding and skills of all students, using evidence-based teaching practices and innovative delivery mechanisms where appropriate.”

4. Assessment and Reporting: This refers to the ability and resources needed to effectively monitor, plan and report on student performance to parents and carers. Consistent practices in this category should be evident school-wide and across all learning areas. Schools that demonstrate excellence excel in this area.

5. Student Performance Measures: Schools that achieve excellence in the four categories already covered, tend to be successful in student performance as well. Their students consistently excel in their performance across learning areas.

 Here are some other opinions:

  • In research conducted in 2009 on why some schools perform much better than their peers, my colleagues and I found it depended, to a significant degree, on the leadership, their expectations for the school, and the extent to which an orderly learning environment exists where students are well-known by the staff. Vic Zbar, School improvement consultant. SMH 2022.
  • The creation of good schools is a long-term process and a good school is an aggregation of good classrooms in which effective teaching and learning are taking place. If you want to know how your child will turn out – look in the mirror! The family background and parents have the absolute greatest influence on student outcomes, then the teacher, the principal, school resources and finally the child’s peers.” David Zyngie , Education Matters.
  • Quality teachers are the backbone of great schools. Excellence in teaching is evident in the qualifications of staff, as well as the professional learning opportunities offered by the school to its teachers. Schools that excel pride themselves on staff excellence. ACER.
  • What is needed is a culture of excellence that permeates every classroom, department and school; a focus not on simply getting the best grade, but on getting the best education and creating a lifelong passion for learning. The Guardian.
  • The most effective schools aren’t necessarily the highest academic performers. They are schools that yield better-than-anticipated results, bringing the best out of every student regardless of background. A successful school fosters broader dimensions of learning critical to students’ overall success. These include social and emotional development, creativity and innovation, positive attitudes to learning, and citizenship. The Conversation.

Summarising the research (and some opinions) it is generally accepted that the best schools have:

  • A clear and shared focus;
  • High standards and expectations for all students;
  • Effective school leadership;
  • High levels of collaboration and communication;
  • Curriculum, instruction and assessments aligned with state standards;
  • Frequent monitoring of learning and teaching;
  • Focused professional development.

Our stated goal is to become “the most outstanding school in NSW.” We are not there yet but we can see that it is possible and that will keep us moving towards true educational excellence.

Anything else would be a betrayal of our vision and our students’ future.

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at

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