Bentleigh West Primary School located 15 km south of Melbourne’s central business district is a vibrant school of approximately 500 students including a large number of special needs students. The school has undergone substantial building redevelopment in the past five years under the Building School Futures funding which has seen them open three purpose designed Learning Houses and a renovated Learning Suite for senior students in the older main building. The designs of each of the flexible spaces were devised by the staff through a series of in-house conferences in which the teaching and learning culture of the school was decided and the buildings designed to suit.
The school has strived to personalise learning for all students through team teaching approaches in flexible spaces where each student’s next steps of learning are identified through a structured approach to VELS. The strong focus on literacy and numeracy across the school is included not only in discrete timetabling but also through inquiry learning appropriate for each level. Teams work together at each level and through entrepreneurial approaches to resource management, both human and physical, each team is able to construct programs according to the needs of their level. Each team has budgetary control and collective decision making ensures that resources are allocated that are appropriate and functional. The employment of multiple levels of educator from trained teachers, teacher aides, teaching assistants and technical specialists, provides students access to multiple adults who bring various skills to the teams. This approach frees up time for teachers to work more closely with students to improve their learning outcomes.
The spaces are designed to enhance this teamed approach and are structured around the metaphor of a family home with living spaces, kitchen area, bedrooms (withdrawal spaces) and bathrooms included in each. Further to these conceptual building designs are more traditional spaces which are used in a variety of ways including an environmental science centre, television studio and radio station. As a results of the Building the Education Revolution funding the school will also have the benefit of a gymnasium and performing arts space to be completed for the start of the 2011 year.
The school has developed a strong program in environmental science and outdoor learning spaces are a fundamental element of the school design. Buildings have very well thought out and utilised indoor/outdoor flow. There is a wetlands classroom, vegetable gardens which are used for inquiry learning and a range of other outdoor learning spaces. Comfort, safety and sight lines are a feature of the landscape design and the school and students have had a great deal of success with gaining gardening, environment and sustainability awards over the past five years.
The most impressive aspect of this coordinated approach to design teaching and learning culture has been a shift in student engagement data. The school has moved from being a community to becoming a learning community where students are able to talk about their learning in meaningful ways and where authentic learning opportunities are provided.
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Bentleigh West Primary School (pdf, 1mb).