Future-focused learning that engages students, teachers, parents and the wider community.


Stacey Quince, Principal at Campbelltown Performing Arts High School


New South Wales, Australia

The pioneer

Stacey has been Principal at Campbelltown Performing Arts High School in New South Wales for 7 years. She is a recipient of the NSW Premier’s Teacher Scholarship, NSW Department of Education Mary Armstrong Leadership Fellowship, ACEL’s NSW Educational Award and AITSL’s Australian Award for Excellence in Teacher Leadership.

She co-led ‘Schools of the Future’, a program which supported 30 diverse secondary schools who want to better prepare their young people for happiness and success beyond school. The program uses disciplined innovation methods to enable schools to reshape their practice and approaches.

“We have a moral imperative to enhance learning opportunities for all young people – it’s not just about the young people in my school, although those young people really matter. There are so many people in the teaching profession now who are hungry for change and see that we need to do things differently, they’re just not always sure how to do it.”

The Big Change

Campbelltown Performing Arts High School have developed an innovative curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that engages students on a deep level.

“Campbelltown is a dynamic, diverse and incredibly rewarding place to work.Our students come from 56 language backgrounds and 112 identify as Aboriginal.44% of our students are in the bottom quarter of socio-economic disadvantage and only 5% are in the top quarter.”

At Campbelltown, learning is:

  • integrated across subjects,
  • co-created by students, teachers and field experts,
  • project-based and balances knowledge and skills outcomes,
  • connected to the real world,
  • personalised and addresses individual needs and passions,
  • supported flexible learning spaces and technology.

The ambition for change

The big vision for Campbelltown is: to empower young people and support them to develop agency – both as learners and as citizens of the world.

This is being achieved through a focus on deeply engaging learning experiences that are delivered through an integrated curriculum and future-oriented approaches to learning.

A shift in direction

Having explored new ways of working through action research, the school became involved in a program called Learning Frontiers, which was explicitly focused on student engagement: the idea that if students are really deeply engaged in their learning, the possibilities for their growth are endless.

At the time, 34% of students in Australia were concerned about the failure of the education system to engage them and meet their learning needs. Along with a new focus on student engagement came the realisation that learning needed to go beyond the walls of the school and involve parents and the community.

Making change happen

1: The start point

Authentic engagement in the ‘case for change’

Stacey and her team understood the need to kick off the change process with a compelling articulation of ‘the why’. Not only teachers, but also parents, students and the wider community needed to see, understand and accept the reasons for doing things differently, and what was possible. Greater clarity about what they collectively wanted for young people became a tangible starting point for the change in direction.

“We developed a case for change which allowed us to look at the global research and some fantastic global examples where schools had done things that were fundamentally different. The research told us that our students would need more than just content knowledge and good marks to be successful and happy in the world beyond school.”

2: Taking off

Sharing ownership of the big picture

“It’s really easy as a leader to know what you want and then mandate that other people do it, but I’m not the only person in the school who’s got ideas. There are plenty of amazing people in my school who’ve got ideas far better than mine.”

Stacey believes shared ownership is important because you end up with a better product the more voices you have involved, as long as that’s done in a meaningful way. Although it can take time and be challenging, people develop real ownership over the work if they’re asked to contribute to the development of the whole model or approach, as well as the component parts.

“Our teachers contributed both to the integrated curriculum model and to the development of all of the lessons within it, which meant they were far more invested in the whole thing; far more likely to want it to work; and more likely to troubleshoot when issues come up rather than complain when something doesn’t work.”

Applying disciplined innovation methods

Disciplined innovation starts with user insights, and this approach is used to engage teachers in research over a short time frame. From there, a ‘coalition of the willing’ is invited to be part of a prototyping process for new approaches. The process relies on telling people what is being tested, and being honest about what works and what doesn’t. This builds trust and helps keep people on board, especially when it’s time to take new models of learning to scale.

“We always ensure that within that community of practitioners there are sceptics who we can use as a ‘barometer’ and who provide valuable insights on potential problems.”

3: Keeping going

Making sure everyone has a voice

Authentic engagement of all stakeholders is at the heart of the ‘Campbelltown way’. Here are just a few examples of the approaches they use:

  • Turning community consultation on its head by sharing early ideas of things they’re implementing and then hosting discussions that generate in-depth responses.
  • Ensuring that students contribute to the development of the learning experiences – by gaining input into programs and tasks, running focus groups, asking them to provide exit slips, or to complete surveys.
  • Running exhibitions for all big projects as a powerful tool to engage the wider community – this will typically be 400 people going to see what one year group have been doing.
  • Asking community organisations to present real-world challenges to students and then enabling students to run projects that solve them.

Surfacing fears

In any change process people will experience fear, but it’s not easy to anticipate what people will be fearful of. At Campbeltown they focus on airing worries early then working hard to mitigate against them.

“When we were testing out our integrated curriculum it became clear that having three different classes and three different subject teachers in one space was intimidating for teachers. In particular, they were concerned about the risks of poor behaviour surfacing, so we came up with a process that would address the issue of student management.”

Providing reassurance

The process of change can be hard, especially in education where the model is fixed and expected by everyone from students, to teachers, to parents. At Campbelltown they reassure people by involving them and building understanding of the role that evidence plays in the changes being made.

“This kind of change can be challenging. Teachers are fearful of not knowing the answer or getting it wrong, and parents can think we’re putting their child’s learning at risk. We have to ensure that they know we’re not just pulling ideas from the air, but that this is robust, deep, important work and we’re really invested in making it the best it can be.”

“I don’t buy into the argument that it’s one or the other – that you prepare students for the test or you prepare them for skills – and I hear that a lot. Our students engage in deep, rigorous learning experiences that are connected to the world and that matter to them. It just so happens that by external measures those same students are also flourishing. But more than that, they are walking away with a set of skills that make them more well-rounded humans when they leave school.”

Taking change wider

Networks and system-level change

Stacey has been involved in leading programmes at a systems level. Here, she’s found that schools may be on different change journeys but they’re all focused on the same thing: ensuring education more effectively meets the needs of students entering a rapidly changing future.

“Working with networks of schools is really critical because I feel like once we all start to join the dots and recognise that, actually, lots of us are trying to do the same thing, we can accelerate the work but we can also start to shift the public discourse about what learning looks like.”

School as a cog in a bigger machine

Campbelltown’s work under Stacey’s leadership has shown that school shouldn’t just be about students and teachers. Individuals and organisations of all kinds need to be invested in education, even if it’s only from a self-interested point of view. Society needs these young people to work on and solve the challenges we all face.

The impact of change

System impact

  • Campbelltown was one of 
    30 NSW public schools participating in the Schools of the Future program to design and support new teaching and learning practices, serving 33,103 students.
  • 40 NSW independent, catholic and government schools, working together to generate new ideas for learning, prototype and test the most promising and to scale the ideas that delivered the greatest benefit for learners across their schools.

“We’ve just finished working with a huge number of secondary schools through Schools of the Future. Within that program we were working with a small group of schools to develop a framework for teaching and assessing 21st century skills. We prototyped a version first in our school, and then engaged other schools to refine the framework, and we’re now working on behalf of the Department for Education who are committed to scaling it up to a systems level.”

Learner impact

  • Access to university continues to be a focus for Campbelltown, with typically 35% students achieving entry to tertiary study and almost 50% of Year 12 moving into further study beyond Year 12. An additional 45% of students have gained employment beyond school.
  • Year 9 NAPLAN results are the highest in five years across every area and growth data for all literacy and numeracy areas are above state average.
  • Year 9 Aboriginal students at CPAHS typically outperform Aboriginal students across the state in statistically similar schools in every area of NAPLAN, and also frequently outperform non–Aboriginal students – a result that defies national trends.

Naplan results are the highest in five years across every area

Tools and resources

For more on project-based learning: REAL ProjectsThe Buck InstituteHigh Tech HighXP school.

For more on the use of design thinking and disciplined innovation, Stanford d.school have some useful tools.

Materials from the Learning Frontiers programme.

UTS futures blog – transforming education alongside parents and community