On Tuesday 5 September 2023, it was announced that Kotara and Broadwater were winners of two separate, prestigious awards. Both schools have been passionate advocates of Quality Teaching were recognised for their incredible commitment to their students, staff and wider community.

Kotara School was awarded the Secretary’s Award for an Outstanding School Initiative at the Minister’s and Secretary’s Awards event at Sydney Town Hall for its Quality Teaching Rounds Special Education project.

Broadwater Public School took out the Teacher Awards Special Contribution Award for the strength and resilience of its community following the major floods in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.

Kotara School, winners of the Secretary’s Award for an Outstanding School Initiative

Kotara School is a School for Specific Purposes spanning two sites – Kotara campus, which supports 28 students from Years 2-6 and Nexus Education – an inpatient facility at the John Hunter Hospital which supports students of all ages (predominantly high school) experiencing acute mental health issues.

Historically, high expectation of students’ academic achievement had not been a focus in special education settings like Kotara School. This gap was identified by Principal, Angus Draffan, who saw the need to shift the culture to focus on both teaching quality and wellbeing.

In 2020, Kotara School hired an Assistant Principal Curriculum, Leigh McGowan, and engaged the University of Newcastle to provide intensive support in the implementation and evaluation of a set of initiatives designed to improve teaching quality and student outcomes.

This project was driven by the belief that all students are capable of high achievement and deserve a high-quality education to give them the best chance of transitioning successfully back into mainstream schools.

The project led to a significant turnaround in teaching quality and student engagement, maintained beyond the two-year scope through an ongoing strategic approach to staff collaboration. As a result, Kotara School developed a highly collaborative culture and has taken on a regional leadership role in mainstream and special education settings.

Kotara School took a whole school approach to improving practice, understanding that culture change requires time, investment and buy-in from all staff. Despite initial hesitation from teachers that this “mainstream” professional development approach wouldn’t work in their setting, data collected in Term 1 and Term 4 2021 showed participation in QTR significantly improved teaching quality, lifting Kotara School above the state average and saw staff perceptions of collaborative practice grow.

In 2022, Kotara School broadened its approach to the program by engaging School Support Officers (SSOs) in QTR, strengthening the school’s culture of collaboration and teamwork to include all student facing staff. They also implemented weekly curriculum and programming meetings with all teachers and SLSOs, using the QT Model to guide discussions about improving lesson programs and delivery plans. This process allows collaboration to go beyond resource sharing, to interrogating and improving curriculum content and pedagogy.

Data from the school’s incident reporting system also showed negative classroom behaviour incidents reduced by 69.8%.

From the outset, Angus and Leigh understood that investing in time for teachers to collaborate with each other, observe their teaching and collectively analyse and refine their practice was integral to changing perceptions of teaching in special education settings. QTR represented a powerful mechanism for changing practice and made a significant positive difference to teaching quality, learning outcomes for students and the school’s culture. The change process has continued in 18 months since the project ended and is deeply embedded in the school’s strategic plan. It is this persistent and strategic approach that shifted perceptions, improved culture, set high expectations, engaged students in their learning, and as Leigh puts it: “made our teachers love teaching again”.

Broadwater Public School, winners of Teacher Awards Special Contribution Award 

In 2021 Broadwater Public School celebrated its 140th anniversary. It’s a small school – 51 students, a staff of three full-time teachers, including a teaching principal, two part-time teachers, two school administrators and two school support officers. But this small school has a big heart forming the focal point of a close-knit community.

In late February 2022, following unprecedented rain, the Richmond River inundated Broadwater, laying waste to homes and Broadwater Public School. The river rose so rapidly during the night that many students and their families were evacuated to higher ground in boats owned by locals.

Many of the Broadwater families relocated to emergency accommodation and short-term rentals in nearby Evans Head. The Broadwater staff and students were relocated to the library at Evans Head Public School. Initially they shared the library with staff and students from two other local small schools in similar situations, before a ‘permanent temporary’ arrangement could be made.

Broadwater Public School moved into demountable buildings situated near the library between the Evans Head primary and high schools, with a small, grassed area, the size of two demountable buildings that is now the playground for the school’s 51 students. The local Bunnings donated planter boxes so that the students could create vegetable gardens which has helped make this small patch more their own. One lunchtime per week, Broadwater Public School students are permitted to use the Evans Head Public School playground, and two days a week, staff walk students to the local park for their lunch time.

The Broadwater staff recognised that delivering high quality lessons was critical in ensuring students remained engaged in their schooling. The teachers at Broadwater developed a novel approach to incorporate the QT Model into their lessons to improve engagement and ensure a high-quality learning environment.

Combining trauma informed pedagogy and the QT Model, the teachers, working with specialised counsellors, create time and space to talk about their experiences in whole class, small group, and individual discussions. The three dimensions of the Model guide their practice – intellectual quality helps provide language and understanding to communicate feelings; quality learning environment guides engagement approaches and provides safe spaces for students; and significance connects students learning to their recent experiences and the wider world.

The effectiveness of their efforts and the approach is evident in the retention of all their students, high attendance rates, and some incredible achievements.

This year, Broadwater students won both the junior and senior regional spelling bee competition and made the state swimming finals. Last year, students attended state athletics carnival and came runners up in the regional rugby 7s competition, and one student won the Premier’s Respect Award.

From the moment the flood waters destroyed their school, the staff at Broadwater Public have been there for each other and for their community. Despite their own challenging personal circumstances, including some staff losing their homes, they have remained committed to supporting their students and ensuring the future of their proud school.

Congratulations to Kotara and Broadwater, winners of of two prestigious awards for their commitment to educational excellence

We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Kotara School and Broadwater Public School for their well-deserved recognition. Your dedication to excellence in education is an inspiration to us all.

Have you won an award recently?

We are always excited to hear about you and your school’s wins! We would love to champion your initiatives by highlighting them in our newsletters and on our website.

If you’d like to share your achievements with us, you can post it in the QT Community or send us an email at [email protected].