A new style of teaching has been adopted at the newly built Curl Curl North Public School.

Officially opened today (Tuesday, 23 February) by NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell and Member for Manly James Griffin, the layout of teaching spaces is designed around the concept of co-teaching.

Minister Mitchell was given a tour of the school by Principal Donna Blatchford, meeting students at various points around the school who explained the new facilities.

According to Principal Blatchford, the construction of the school was done in two stages. The first stage being the construction of 40 new learning spaces, library and administration area that was completed mid-way through last year. The second stage completed the new school hall, canteen and futsal courts in time for the start of this school year.

Donna Blatchford

Donna Blatchford

“We were on the northern end and we watched the southern end be built, then we moved into this end and they built that end. We loved it because the students were really curious. They were asking questions and the builders would show us 3D plans. The students would fly through the design like a drone. The students were talking about architecture, design and 3D imaging. It was really good to be part of it.

“The Project Reference Group (PRG) started at the end of 2016. Community consultation was very rigorous. The community provided great feedback around what they believed the school needed to have. Inclusivity in design and maintaining that comfortable feeling of the school was really important to our community,” said Mrs Blatchford.

As Principal, Mrs Blatchford focused on the educational aspect of the design along with Deputy Principal Rebecca Boyle, who was also a member of the PRG. Together their aim was to ensure the practice of classroom teaching was applied to the design.

“We tried to keep the student learning at the forefront of those discussions, so that we could always justify a decision on the basis of benefit to the students,” said Mrs Boyle.

Rebecca Boyle

Rebecca Boyle

Feedback from staff has been positive and ‘a little relieved’, with most teachers excited to be in the spaces that had been much talked about, along with the new co-teaching style they would enable.

“We did a lot of professional learning in the lead up. Learning about the benefits of co-teaching, learning about how you can adapt your practice in order to enhance student learning if you are in a space where you can share and collaborate with another teacher.

“They had that preparation a couple of years in the lead up, so once we got in it was nice to finally put that into practice, try things out and decide what’s going to work best in each situation.

“There’s a growing research base around co-teaching, around improving student engagement and student learning. Also very much around collective teacher efficacy. The fact you can be with a colleague and get immediate feedback constantly on your teaching. Also that you can see somebody else teaching and play to your strengths and can benefit in that way.

“It takes you away from that closed box environment where you could go a whole day without speaking to anyone else and get to the end of the day and that’s when you had a collegial discussion. Now it’s constant throughout the day,” said Mrs Boyle.

The opportunity to design the school around the concept to enable co-teaching has allowed the school to be unique in its adoption according to the school’s Principal.

“There are a lot of schools where there is co-teaching opportunities but North Curl Curl is unique and innovative in that all of our teachers are engaged in co-teaching because the facilities allow for that.

“Our parent community is keen to know what co-teaching is, how it benefits their child, how it works, what the spaces look like. For the last three years we’ve been keeping our parents on that journey,” said Mrs Blatchford.

Deputy Principal Boyle agreed, saying that while there had not been parental resistance to the concept of co-teaching, there had been significant curiosity about it and how children may respond.

“People have been curious and wanted to understand how it works. Part of the design is a difference between the K-2 design and the 3-6 design. That’s all part of ensuring that our students have progression of how they move through those spaces.

“When they first come into school they still have a connection with their own class and own classroom teacher but it’s in a design that allows them to start to learn about the benefits of collaboration. As they move through the school they become more comfortable.

“We deliberately did that because we wanted to make sure the Kindy kids weren’t coming in at the beginning and feeling overwhelmed in a large space. It’s in a progressive way. That’s what they are going to need when they go out into the workforce, they are going to need to work in different spaces and adapt and be flexible,” said Mrs Boyle.

The new approach has brought some additional benefits in the classroom according to Principal Blatchford, with improved classroom experience for students.

“Continuity of learning is really important. On a day one of the co-teachers may be unwell, the other teacher becomes the lead teacher and the casual teacher is there as a support. Both are still teaching but those different approaches are utilised at different times.

“It’s skill set as well. Students tell me one teacher was better at maths, or another had more creative flair. The students definitely were able to know what teacher would benefit their learning,” said Mrs Blatchford.

Deputy Principal Boyle said there were other benefits for the students as well, with students relating to each of the teachers differently.

“One of the other things I noticed with the students in my Year 6 co-teaching class last year, was students who were in your roll class may not gravitate to you. They might gravitate to the other person. So between myself and my co-teacher the kids were able to go to the person they felt most comfortable with,” said Mrs Boyle.

Andrew Whitaker

Andrew Whitaker

President of the Curl Curl North P&C Andrew Whitaker who was also a member of the Project Reference Group (PRG) said the collaborative approach to design had delivered an ‘amazing’ result.

“It’s been a long way to get here but it’s absolutely amazing, it’s like a holiday resort. We’ve put all of our input into it to get it to what it is,” said Mr Whitaker.

Sarah Mitchell

Sarah Mitchell

NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said she was excited to attend the official opening of the school.

“Students across NSW are benefitting from our Government’s investment in new and upgraded schools, including right here at Curl Curl North Public School. I am delighted that this upgrade will provide students and teachers with the resources they deserve,” said Minister Mitchell.

James Griffin

James Griffin

Member for Manly James Griffin said he was incredibly proud of the rebuild of Curl Curl North Public School.

“We did the sod turn a couple of years ago and to see it now is absolutely amazing. Credit to the teaching community and the parents. This school is an example of what good governments do.

“We want our children to have the best education possible, and providing high quality school facilities is a key part of that. These new and improved facilities at Curl Curl North Public School will benefit our growing community for generations to come,” said Mr Griffin.

The upgrade of Curl Curl North Public School is part of a $7b program over the next four years to deliver over 200 new and upgraded schools across NSW. This includes upgrades at Manly Vale Public School, Harbord Public School and Brookvale Public School.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate, James Griffin MP