International Benchmarking Study Tour #3 – Frankston High School

Australia doesn’t have “high stakes” tests until Year 12 (the equivalent of our Year 13). This means that young Australians have Key stages 3 & 4 to develop interests and skills beyond the constraints of formal assessment.

The heavily over-subscribed Frankston High (130 teachers and1650 students on roll)* in the suburban Mornington Peninsula is a fantastic school and they put on a show for us. I’m not suggesting that what we saw was superficial; this was a school proud of its curriculum and the leadership of its staff and students and this sang from the moment we were welcomed.

The expected vision and values were presented and from that point the students ran the day. There was a tangible whiff of, “Let’s show these Poms what we can do,” but this was delivered with courtesy and integrity. The culture of the school beamed from the leadership team and the personal attentions of the Principal; he knew his students and staff and praised them for their leadership at every turn. You can tell when such attentions are genuine and well-received.

Frankston vision

We saw enthusiastic active learning in Science – a student explained the Doppler Effect through an anime cartoon – and an ex-student visited the school to explain how the Hands on Learning Programme had inspired him to run his own business despite his dyslexia.

With 10 students and 5 staff, for 1 day a week students struggling with the classroom engage with landscaping and project work around the school. This has improved attendance, motivation and results. 30 schools in Australia use the programme and it’s being exported internationally.
With 10 students and 5 staff, for 1 day a week students struggling with the classroom engage with landscaping and project work around the school. This has improved attendance, motivation and results. 30 schools in Australia use the programme and it’s being exported internationally.

The breadth of the options available to Years 7 – 10 was stunning. This elective curriculum captures the passions of staff and students and develops new skills and the softer skills required to be a successful learner. The popular Aviation programme may look like playing with toys (nothing wrong with play in the curriculum, by the way), but actually led to an understanding of aeronautics and flying lessons in a Cessna.

There are no GCSE equivalent exams in Australia; there is freedom to explore a creative curriculum.

I was even convinced that Minecraft had a place on the curriculum. With three sons immersed in this virtual world I have had this discussiion at home (I can see them applying for their visas right now).

Minecraft – a worldwide phenomenon
Minecraft – a worldwide phenomenon

There were lots of extra-curricular opportunities for personal development through sport, music, leadership.

Another theme to this tour that I’m particularly keen to explore is the approach to E-learning. Frankston was the first Government school to introduce tablet teaching in Australia and they have moved on with ambition.

These students explained how the school VLE was a focus for real-time engagement with teachers – including a social networking platform and the sharing of work through OneNote.

Staff were honest enough to acknowledge that this approach was in development and that the key to its success in the long term would be staff training and buy-in. But with talented developers and leadership I’m sure they’ll have every chance of shaping the culture at the school. I was able to share our Thinkspace team’s vision and I hope that Frankston will be interested in having the first Australian coding school run by students.

So, an amazing school; one that I would be happy to send my children to. But what can we take from here back to the UK? In addition to the inevitable reflections on the importance of strong leadership from the Principal, inculcating a sense of team and leadership throughout the school, there are some structural considerations.

To what extent do Australian curriculum freedoms contribute to a higher ranking in the International Benchmarks? In addition:

There are no League tables in Australia;

There is no Ofsted equivalent;

The concept of levels of progress is alien;

Principals don’t face the same levels of vulnerability as Heads in the UK from the Department of Education.

We get led back to some fundamental questions about the UK system. What is the purpose of an education? Are we developing economic units or providing a child with the commitment and skills to learn throughout their lives? Is the education system in the UK going to deliver improved outcomes by introducing increased stricture?

Worryingly for the Australians, the conservative Government is adopting some of the more recent policies from the UK. Australian Principals have complained about the new Appraisal measures but the system sounded very reasonable to us. Worse could be on the way.

As system leaders preparing to deliver our key messages back in the UK, is Melbourne awaiting another toxic cloud “On the Beach“?


* A perception we have to test in Sydney is the apparently high funding and pupil teacher ratios. A contributory factor to this may be not having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on exam administration at Key stage 4

12 thoughts on “International Benchmarking Study Tour #3 – Frankston High School

  1. Karen Stears

    Well, we appear to gave just got rid of levels here, so maybe we’re moving in this direction. This does sound like a ‘free school’ in UK terms doesn’t it? Also a question about personnel structure. You describe a very top-down system, what reflective and transformative elements are there in this structure so that the system is dynamic? Or is it a big-man school and therefore all very dependent on the right leader? (Witness the disasters recently in free schools over here.) how big is the leadership group and what is its role if there are fewer state hurdles through which to jump? Also finally, I know you’re down under but check your photos!

    1. The levels question is interesting; I genuinely don’t understand how “progress” will be measured and compared nationally without them. Awaiting further guidance here.

      The best Principals we’ve seen acknowledged and supported leadership the school from students to staff. The elective modules looked like staff and student driven interests. Leadership was very well distributed. Although this wasn’t the case everywhere and in some settings you worried what would happen on the departure of the Principal. The leadership groups did seem smaller and they were focused on T&L primarily.

      Photos seem fine on main browser but some flipped on mobiles! This I cannot explain – need Steve.

      1. Karen Stears

        Re: progress tracking. I guess (!) that without national descriptors it will be up to individual systems (ie teachers, departments and schools) to devise tracking criteria. But nationally progress will be judged by outcomes in linear exams. #guesswork

  2. Sir Ken Gibson

    First of all let me thank Kieran for this wonderful blog which will only serve to assist colleagues in remembering much of what we have witnessed on this study tour.
    A message for Karen – when you post photographs over here they do appear upside down initially. I am sure that Kieran will be rotating them through 180 degrees fairly soon. I have just witnessed water draining away in an anti-clockwise direction too!
    In response to Karen’s question, the best school we have witnessed so far was not over reliant on the Principal. However, what was noticeable for me was the fact that the Principal had a definite and passionate interest in the classroom. He was heavily involved in the leadership of teaching and learning, as any good head ought to be, and he most certainly knew his students and staff incredibly well.
    He also praised them at every opportunity, not in a patronising manner, but with a genuine sense of pride and appreciation.

    1. Thanks for the post, Sir Ken! Looking forward to testing our hypotheses in Sydney.

    2. Karen Stears

      Can you elucidate further on what you mean by ‘not over reliant on the Principal’? And thanks for the info re: photos!

  3. Nick Burt

    When can I be timetabled in for Cessna flying lessons!! What a great Enginering project. “Students @DHSBoys build a plane and let their teacher test fly it!”

    1. Ha ha! Yes, thought of you. Such an awesome opportunity for these students; they all loved it. Makes you think what ours are missing out on.

  4. Graham Macleod

    Love picture of students moving around the campus on their own motorised armchairs, what a great idea!! maybe this is something we should consider in the UK… an initial phase for staff only perhaps? Could be a problem with stairs though… Ah! now I understand the importance of the focus on Aeronautics

  5. Kimberley Croft

    My form group would definitely be motivated by Minecraft! Well, 50/50 split. Definitely something to learn here in terms of contextualising learning and educating for understanding versus knowledge. All students motivated by different things; need to work out how to personalise this approach with exam specs and pressures from year 9. Fantastic to hear what’s happening in Australia – will share with African colleagues here (a successful first outing with iPad abroad!)

  6. Sarah

    As a former student of this very high-performing school, I can confirm that this school is one of a kind. As some users have commented before me, you may see this school as a “free school” and this is the first I’ve heard of this system and I’m assuming that this type of school comes from the UK? First of all, that system here in Victoria where students in Year 9 and 10 choose their elective subjects is universal (on a state level) meaning that every student in Year 9 or 10 in every school has the opportunity to choose their elective subjects, with core subjects including English, Maths, Science and Languages going all with them. Personally, I found these few years of high school the most important because they opened our eyes up to the many opportunities awaiting us for life after high school. Frankston High School is a prime example of how well this system works and the school has one of the longest lists of available electives for students in the state. After spending a year going to school in Germany before completing my Year 11, it was a relief to come back to the Victorian schooling system and profiting from the many options we have when choosing our own futures. Honestly, this school is the best government school in the state and could teach a thing or two to other schools, be it government or non-government in the region.

    1. “Approve”

      *Kieran Earley*

      Twitter: @kieran_earley

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