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Southland Girls' High - for all the right reasons


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Digital story: Southland Girls' High

In 2005 Southland Girls’ High School became New Zealand’s first Year 7-13 state girls' secondary school when Years 7 and 8 students were integrated into all five secondary schools in Invercargill.

The Southland Girls’ team used this opportunity to research then implement a new approach to the traditional Year 7 and 8 Intermediate School. They decided to create an inclusive and integrated whole school environment. This philosophy, which began as a vision for the junior school, evolved and became part of the whole school development.

Whole school development

During the review the school consulted and shared ideas about their vision to consolidate their ideas. They visited other schools in New Zealand and Australia, and researched the concept of developing a whole school environment to provide an evidence base for their thinking. The curriculum design, which became known as 'The Grid', incorporated the idea of the curriculum as a holistic learning journey, with an overarching focus for each year level, which would be developed over successive years. This encompassed learning and thinking skills and a curriculum reworked into 'Learning Packages' of real interest, as well as leadership development for women, and their growth as global citizens.

The grid

The new model was developed around a base of inquiry learning at Year 7 and 8, which was designed to create independent thinkers capable of making responsible decisions. At Year 9 and 10 this becomes a personalised learning model . The intention was to incorporate all aspects of learning through a curriculum that linked subjects, values, and thinking skills along with pastoral care and personal development.

Habits of Mind

In the first stage of this development the school incorporated Habits of Mind© into the grid as a way of building a structure for their learning and teaching. Habits of Mind© became a shared language that united the school on a developmental learning path. They were applicable to all students and to the staff and community. They continue to be the guiding principles for the school.

The learning packages

At each year level the school uses four general organising concepts to frame and sequence units of work and to provide a focus. These 'Learning Packages' also incorporate an inquiry-learning model based on the work of Kath Murdoch and Jennie Wilson. This model comprises seven steps, which all units of work follow.

The 'Learning Packages' are a way of personalising a student’s learning; identifying their interests and abilities and building on them. A 'Learning Package' is a unit of work that the girls develop with their teachers around an issue, concern or specific topic identified by the student. The units typically involve the students doing some service learning, usually somewhere in the local community. The teachers and girls design and plan the units of works. Each culminates with additions to the students’ learning portfolios. As the students develop their projects, their teachers assist them to identify success criteria, which reflect groups of achievement objectives against which to measure learning and progress.

Students leave Southland Girls' High with a strong sense of community and a strong sense of belonging. They have been immersed in a curriculum that is not just about subject learning, but which links subjects, values, and thinking skills along with pastoral care and personal development.

Review questions image.

The Southland Girls’ High School story illustrates the way this school approached curriculum design. Southland Girls’ decided to break away from the traditional subject discourse to focus instead on the learning and teaching programmes related to skills and key competencies that would be an essential part of a student’s education throughout her years at school. Their curriculum recognises that students have a past, present and future and live complex lives in multiple locations. In doing this they have created a curriculum that encompasses the whole life of a student.

This development has taken a number of years, is continually evolving and being reviewed. The staff is involved in ongoing learning that enables them to carry out new teaching practices; the school recognises the experts they have within the school and involves outside expertise from time to time. Southland Girls’ High School has created an active learning community.

Discuss the process this school developed and the way they have implemented their new curriculum. How might you use these ideas as a possible model for your own journey?

Published on: 25 Aug 2008