By TOM GANNON
ST Paul’s Anglican Grammar School reached new heights during a tumultuous 2020, winning The Age’s Schools that Excel award for Regional and Rural Victoria’s most improved non-government school.
The annual awards celebrate schools that achieve outstanding improvement in their VCE results and uses an interactive map, available on The Age website, which shows data on whether a school has improved or maintained its results over a ten-year period.
St Paul’s principal Cameron Herbert said the school was humbled to receive the award following a disruptive and uncertain year.
“We are honoured, we try to be humble but when an award comes your way you certainly accept it with a smile, it’s nice recognition for the work of staff over the last ten years,” he said.
“I think there’s a tendency to think only the best things can happen in cities, but I come from a farm in Western Australia and I know that’s not the case, we underestimate ourselves in the rural areas, I think we are pretty special out here and it’s lovely to have that recognised through an award like this.”
St Paul’s 2020 VCE cohort of 143 students achieved the school’s highest median study score in a decade, 34, beating the state average of 30, an improvement from the school’s 2019 median of 32.
A study score is a raw ranking of performance per subject relative to all other students who studied the same subject that year.
In terms of the school’s strongest subjects which had students achieve a study score of 40 or more, English claimed top spot in 2020 with 21 students, second was a draw between Chemistry and Further Mathematics with seven students and the last two were Biology and Health and Human Development, each with five students.
Impressively, the rate at which St Paul’s students are reaching these 40+ study scores is exponential with 18.1 per cent of VCE students hitting the mark in 2020, smashing the 7.5 per cent the school produced in 2016.
Mr Herbert said the high standard of results could be attributed to several of the school’s programs, which view each student as a whole, rather than focusing on purely academic results.
“I think it’s been a more united culture over the time and that culture is one of supporting each other and every person doing the best they can,” he said.
“The previous principal brought in a growth mindset philosophy that everyone can get better, it’s not about knowing everything, it’s about improving and I think that collectively has been a really powerful force.”
Mr Herbert highlighted the use of technological as another reason, such as the school’s continuous online feedback on learning and assessments, a learning and analytics suite called Track One studio which uses raw data to highlight the needs of students and a relationship mapping program which assesses how students are coping in their personal lives.
Mr Herbert told The Express the award was a great way to recognise the efforts of last year’s Year 12 cohort, who managed to excel during a difficult time because they found new ways of staying connected with one another.
“It’s very satisfying because in the end we want self-discipline, we don’t want people to do things because they have to, we want them to do things because they want to and they know it’s the right thing to do and this reaffirmed that for me,” he said.
Although the award and the quality of results certainly sets the bar high for future VCE students, Mr Herbert said these expectations will have a positive impact on younger year levels.
“I think it terrifies the current Year 12s, but they are a very talented bunch,” he said.
“I think it really inspires the younger students and sets the tone and high expectations which are critical in achieving highly, if you don’t have those high expectations you’re never going to get there.”