All eyes on St Mel’s: Sydney school wins innovation accolade and global attention

Bashful at all the attention: St Mel’s Catholic Primary has been getting noticed for its Organic Learning initiative — within Australia and from overseas. PHOTO: Kitty Beale, Sydney Catholic Schools

A Sydney Catholic primary school has been named one the most innovative schools in Australia.

St Mel’s Catholic Primary School in Campsie has made The Educator’s annual Innovative Schools list – one of only 40 – beating out thousands of schools across the nation.

And they are also poised to take their success to the global stage, having been asked to share their learnings at the Hawaii International Conference on Education in January 2018.

The achievement is even more staggering when considering that 98 per cent of their students come from a non-English speaking background, with many children having little to no English at the start of their schooling.

The school community has done it by creating its own school-wide learning framework called Organic Learning.

Its biggest feature is ‘Hexagonal Curriculum Mapping’, where every outcome or goal is printed on a hexagon and made visible on a shared learning wall, with students and staff cross-fertilising the goals by making learning connections between them.

A winning team: St Mel’s Catholic Primary principal, Steve Borthwick (right), and deputy principal, Chad Ferris. PHOTO: St Mel’s Catholic Primary, Campsie

It has become a shared language for students and staff alike, helping students to become self-directed and creative in their learning.

Principal Steve Borthwick and Deputy Principal Chad Ferris got the process started around four years ago and have been developing it with the whole school community ever since.

Mr Ferris says they were “really excited” about the innovation accolade and all the attention they had received, from within Australia and overseas.

Representatives from schools in Queensland, Victoria, Hong Kong, and Thailand have visited to see the organic learning cycle in action, while the school’s blog has proved a hit with educators, from New Zealand to America.

“I’ve been to an international education conference, but I haven’t presented at one before,” Mr Ferris told The Catholic Weekly.

“We’ve had great data gains in NAPLAN, and we’ve also got kids thinking critically and creatively.

“And we’re proud of the fact that we make sure the foundational skills of English and Mathematics are taught well, and the fact that many of our kids enter with very little or no English (but) we get them to the point where they are very articulate – where they can also have conversations with adults.”

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Mr Borthwick said the aim was to “grow learners who can change the world” by being able to take control of their own learning.

“Christ changed the world,” he said.

“We want our students and teachers to believe they can do the same.”

The school was asked to submit an article about the Organic Learning Framework to the prestigious Australian Educational Leader, which was published in August.