The median study score at the college over the past two years in a row has been 30, which means a typical year 12 student there is on par with the average student statewide.
To put that achievement in perspective, between 2003 and 2016 the school’s median study score did not rise above 29.
In addition, 7.4 per cent of its students achieved subject study scores of 40 or above, the school’s best results over the past decade. A score of 40 or above in a subject means a student has achieved a result that puts them in the top 9 per cent of the state.
This growth has led to The Age crowning Elwood College the Schools that Excel state school winner for Melbourne’s south.
«The refocus had to be on teaching and improving our results so high expectations of student behaviour and learning culture was a very important part of it,» Ms Holt said.
Teachers’ roles were assessed and sometimes changed to fit their strengths and ideas. Year seven students now receive individual entry interviews about their learning likes and dislikes and parents have been encouraged to be more actively involved with school life.
Other practical changes were introducing a strict uniform policy, cutting down on teachers’ administrative tasks during meetings, and collecting and analysing VCE results data to help shape the curriculum.
«You’ve got to set expectations and be quite determined about where you’ve got to go,» Ms Holt said.
«It’s not just about that VCE score — all I want for the students is to have as many choices as possible when they finish.»
Money also played a crucial part in rejuvenating the college’s atmosphere and capabilities. Funding of $10 million from the state government allowed them to improve the grounds and replace the old, closed-off classrooms with connected and collaborative new spaces.
«We wanted it to be a physical reflection of what was already happening here,» assistant principal Todd Asensio said. «A building and grounds program that would reflect the hard work going on inside.»
As well as growing academic success over the decade, the school has also almost doubled its enrolments going from approximately 450 students to 850.
«When you’re a very small school, teachers have far too many different hats,» Ms Holt said. «It’s definitely a bonus of growing that you have more people able to do more things.»
Type in the name of your school to find out how it has fared over the past decade, what its graduates do after finishing school, and more:
Another high-achieving school in Melbourne’s south, Mentone Grammar, has been awarded the Schools that Excel award for the non-government sector.
Its 2006 decision to enrol girls at what had previously been known as «The Boys’ Grammar» sparked a research-based overhaul of the independent school’s entire curriculum, ethos and direction.
«After the turmoil had settled, the community started to come together. What it created was a wonderful appetite for change,» principal Mal Cater said.
«What we did was say we’re not just an ATAR factory, we’re very much about the holistic development of the child.»
The new approach included starting an student-run cafe and study hall sessions, introducing feedback surveys from teachers, students and parents, and a focus on staff collaboration.
The independent school has seen median study scores consistently improve over the past decade, from 33 to 34 to 35.
When Mentone Grammar’s median VCE score is graphed over time, it has a stepped shape without any dips in performance, something that only a handful of Victorian schools can boast.
And when it comes to high achievers, about one in five study scores were 40 or above. One of the school’s strongest subjects is Physical Education, in which at least 26 students achieved results that put them in the top 9 per cent of the state for that unit.
The school prides itself on celebrating all types of success and encourages students to pursue their passions.
«Every child will create a pathway for themselves if we create environments for them where they can think, ‘I don’t have to be a doctor, I can be a carpenter, I can be a plumber’,» Mr Cater said.
«We have one student in New York who is a barista making coffee all day. We are as proud of him as we are of the ones studying medicine and the like.»
The school’s academic growth has been mirrored by physical growth with enrolments doubling from 800 to just over 1600 since going co-ed.
«We were a very traditional provider of education but we knew there was greater capacity within us to unleash that in a contemporary way,» Mr Cater said.
«This is not a short-term improvement. It’s about making a commitment over a long period of time.»
-With CRAIG BUTT
Anna is a breaking and general news reporter at The Age.