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How do you define success for a school? A strange question you might think coming from the keyboard of a school principal? It has an obvious answer, was the common response of the small number of members of the school community, students, parents and staff that were asked.

Yet in enquiring further, the obvious answer varied, sometime widely, from person to person. It was an interesting exercise and although the sample was small and thus results are anecdotal, I suspect a more formal survey and larger sample might lead to a similar result.

Perhaps the answer is not quite so obvious as we might assume.

The most common responses varied enormously, with some responses surprising even to me, an experienced school principal with 40 years in education.

One of the more obvious responses defined success as headline results, that is, VCE results, tertiary entrance placements, and NAPLAN results. These are important indicators of individual student success, especially if the student has achieved a personal best!

NAPLAN was never intended to become a proxy measure of school success, but rather a diagnostic measure of individual student development that provided parents with a snapshot of their child’s achievement on the items tested and schools with diagnostic data that can be used to improve learning.

To determine school success by student headline results misses much important learning that occurs in school and a focus on headline results can lead to an undue focus, with the risk of distorted practice aimed at maximising results at the expense of some students and other important learning.

Schools are small community villages where the purpose for the gathering of people is to see children raised to become successful adults, positioned for success in the adult world. The child or young person needs to be safe and secure, connected to their family, friends and village community; they are shaped and influenced by the adults around them, challenged and provoked to meet expectations that require a personal best from them and thus positioned for the next steps in their life, but also positioned for long term adult success.

Not all children have the same capacity; each is unique. A personal best for one child might mean they attain a perfect Study Score of 50 in Year 12; for another battling anxiety and depression, being at school each day, and completing positively and satisfactorily might be a significant achievement, their personal best. Another may have a passion for music, or highly successful at entrepreneurial activities.

Each needs a solid basis of academic knowledge and skills, but also develop their 6C’s: communications and collaboration skills, creativity, critical thinking, character and be recognised for their unique personal bests and their contribution to those around them.

We take notice of, and encourage and support, and expect a personal best for each person. That is success for each student and thus the whole school.

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