Cecil Andrews College, Western Australia, is a low SES school with a 27% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, as well as new migrants, refugees and a significant number of disadvantaged students.
Stella Jinman, the Principal of Cecil Andrews College, decided to introduce vocational learning programs to engage students by making learning interesting and relevant to future employment.
Cecil Andrews College aims to inspire students’ curiosity and love of learning and help them imagine a place for themselves in the future world of work.
Cecil Andrews College implemented the ACARA Work Studies curriculum across all year levels. The Work Studies program undertaken in Years 7 to 10 complements the upper school VET delivered to secondary students.
The College identified opportunities and provided tools for students to use as building blocks towards successful career pathways. The school does this through a range of project-based programs that allow industry collaboration, including:
- FIRST Robotics Competition
- Pathways in Technology (P-TECH).
The school’s STEM centre is furnished with a range of tools to help students create and work on a range of projects. These include:
- laser cutters
- 3D printers
- engineering software and electronics.
Partnerships with local community and industry
Cecil Andrews College has actively engaged in industry and community collaboration since 2013. Partnerships with other institutions are key to creating successful pathways for students. These include:
- South Metropolitan TAFE
- Curtin University
- local primary and high schools.
The school has a STEM focus and actively participates in opportunities for project-based teams to develop transferable skills, such as inter-school or state-wide competitions.
The school has pursued opportunities through the Marine Industries School Pathways Programme, including:
- Subs in Schools
- 4x4 in Schools supported by Re-Engineering Australia Foundation.
- In 2017, the school’s 4x4 engineering team won a number of regional awards in the established international FIRST Robotics Competition.
Cecil Andrews College is implementing a Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) program with support from industry partners and the Australian and Western Australian governments.
P-TECH is a program to increase the take-up of STEM subjects and careers by young people through direct engagement with industry. Through the program at Cecil Andrews College, students in Years 9-12 work with industry experts on real-world challenges.
The school’s industry partners include:
- ship-builder Austal
- contractor Civmec
- defence electronics business Thales Australia
- IT companies Datacom and HP
- financial advisory firm Deloitte Australia.
Industry-supported learning experiences help students to better understand the relevance of their learning and how it can be applied in the workplace. These include:
- work experience
- hands-on activities at school and in the workplace.
One of the industry experts partnering with the school is Western Australia’s 2018 Professional Engineer of the Year, Craig Power. Craig mentor's Year 10 and 11 students working on STEM projects and has a passion for getting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds interested in STEM-based careers through:
- hands-on access to 3D printing
- laser cutting technology
Fostering creativity through art
The school has used art within STEM activities to foster creativity. The 4x4 team created Indigenous art work for their vehicles instead of using typical stickers, and the drone team recently worked with a dance troupe to choreograph a performance incorporating dancers and drones.
Artist-in-residence, Gary Cass expanded student thinking by combining science and art in projects such as:
- getting the students to convert their own DNA into a musical score
- a project that considered how to explain concepts of science using Aboriginal perspectives.
Relating school subjects to real world skills
Teachers at Cecil Andrews College blend 21st century technology skills into the curriculum by mapping learning area content and general capabilities to real world skills.
- The rigidity of education systems and structures can make getting students out of the school and engaged with industry challenging.
- The ATAR process limits the ability of more academically-able students to engage in flexible, industry-facing programs and enjoy the experiences available to students in general and vocational pathways.
- Annual funding models also limit schools’ ability to plan over a longer timeframe. Industry collaborations require ongoing commitment, but schools may have difficulty making financial commitments beyond the funding year.
Collaboration has been central to success at Cecil Andrews College because it allows the school to provide students with learning opportunities that are exciting and relevant to the real world.
Through the P-TECH program the school has been able to get students working ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ with industry experts. According to Stella, this has been instrumental in changing student attitudes to learning by:
- helping them identify meaningful career pathways
- lifting their aspirations.
Access to specialist expertise has also been important for the school. Stella has gone to great lengths to hire and inspire staff with industry experience, often from elite schools, who are passionate about exploring STEM possibilities with students. The role of the STEM Pathways Coordinator has connected the school with industry expertise through mentoring programs.
“I was particularly impressed by the quality of many of the projects, the ability of the students to articulate their work, and the additional skills deployed.”Shell executive referring to student work on Shell’s NXplorer’s program
By focusing on student engagement in all learning areas, the school has seen substantial improvements in literacy and numeracy levels. Cecil Andrews College was ranked as one of the most improved schools in the 2018 NAPLAN results.
Project-based learning has allowed students to develop transferable skills through exploring options, trying out ideas, failing and problem-solving. Parents report that their children are excited to learn and participate in school activities.
As a result of engaging with tech projects, many students have improved their communication and confidence levels. Teachers have found that shyer students are willing to present information on their projects and the process of creating them.
Students with multiple challenges and a history of low achievement have developed ambition, confidence, and self-worth. Stella recounts an experience where one Aboriginal student burst into tears after being publicly praised for his proficiency in a drone program. He was far more accustomed to being in trouble.
What you can apply in your school
Changing the culture and direction of a school is a gradual, long-term process. To get started, Stella recommends making the most of available resources by fostering teacher talents and empowering them to think outside the box.
“With innovative teachers in positions of leadership, the new mindset will start filtering through and then the ball starts rolling.”Stella Jinman, Principal of Cecil Andrews College