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Supporting Literacy and Numeracy across Years 5 to 8

Throughout 2013 and 2014, academics from the Faculty of Education, University of Tasmania (UTAS) worked with principals and teaching staff from four school clusters identified by the Tasmanian Department of Education (DoE), on a project focussed on improving literacy and numeracy across Years 5 to 8 in a response to the outcomes of the NAPLAN results in Years 7 and 9.

The project commenced with three key aims:

  1. Improve the literacy and numeracy outcomes of high school students, targeting the transition from primary to high school;
  2. Focus on teacher professional learning through an exploration of issues, and sharing best practice pedagogy; and
  3. Develop and trial initiatives that may be transferable to all Tasmanian government schools.

The participating schools and their primary school cluster are located in different regions with each location representing an opportunity to explore a related but different challenge to the DoE.

To initiate the 4 Districts project, four school clusters and their principals were identified and invited to participate in the project by Department of Education leaders. Staff from the Faculty of Education, with appropriate and relevant expertise were selected by the UTAS Project Leader to participate as Cluster Liaison for one of the four clusters. School leaders, usually school principals of each school in the cluster, subsequently met with the Project Leader and designated Cluster Liaison to commence scoping of the project, contextualised to their district and needs. At each of these initial meetings, the school leaders were asked to review the objectives of their project, identify the targeted area(s) of concern felt to be impacting upon transition from primary to secondary school, and to confirm their selection of participating teachers.

The project adopted an Action Research (AR) approach, with the specific focus of each AR project negotiated with teachers and principals within their clusters, with reference to the specific aims of the umbrella project. Activities undertaken during 2013 aligned with the research question each cluster developed, and were viewed by each cluster as Phase 1 of the AR. This phase had a strong focus on teacher professional learning and capacity building of teachers, utilising the school principal as curriculum leader and key middle leaders as literacy and numeracy project drivers. Whilst the second AR phase undertaken during 2014, built upon learning from 2013 and focused further on the transferability and sustainability of the initiatives.

Overview of Cluster Goals and Actions [PDF 543.2 KB] (Presentation)

Action Research Introduction [PDF 716.4 KB]

Map of Tasmania

New Town – Ogilvie

The New Town – Ogilvie cluster consists of two high schools and three feeder primary schools. New Town High School is a public school for boys from years 7 to 10, situated north of Hobart whilst its sister school, Ogilvie High School is a large public school for girls from years 7 to 10; it is the only public all-girls school in the state. They are located approximately 10 minutes from each other. In the main, these two high schools draw students from schools in the area: Bowen Road Primary School, Lenah Valley Primary School and New Town Primary School which are all located approximately 10 minutes from the high schools.

Student numbers beginning 2013 totalled
approximately: 2649

Ogilvie High School: 820
New Town High School: 764
Bowen Road Primary School: 255
Lenah Valley Primary School: 472
New Town Primary School: 338


The Penguin cluster is located approximately 20 minutes east of Burnie and it commenced 2013 consisting of one high school and two feeder primary schools, Penguin Primary and Riana Primary. At the end of 2013, Penguin High and Penguin Primary combined to become a co-educational District School. Riana Primary School is located a short distance (~15 minutes) south and inland from Penguin.

Student numbers beginning 2013 totalled
approximately: 752

Penguin High School: 256
Penguin Primary School: 379
Riana Primary School: 117


The Scottsdale cluster consists of one high school and three feeder primary schools. The Cluster is located in a rural agricultural environment in North East Tasmania, approximately 70 km from Launceston. Scottsdale High is a co-educational high school which caters for years 7 to 12. In the main it draws students from Bridport Primary (~25 minutes north), Ringarooma Primary (~30 minutes southeast) and Scottsdale Primary Schools.

Student numbers beginning 2013 totalled
approximately: 934

Scottsdale High School: 350
Scottsdale Primary School: 363
Bridport Primary School: 134
Ringarooma Primary School: 87


The Tasman cluster consists of one school, the Tasman District School (TDS) which is a K–12 school situated in Nubeena south east of Hobart.  The school's population is derived from various areas of the Tasman Peninsula.

Student numbers beginning 2013 totalled approximately: 250

Guiding Questions

Each cluster developed its own Action Research (AR) question which served to ground and direct goals and activities throughout the project.

New Town – Ogilvie

In what ways can quality practices, that are consistently implemented across grades 5-8, improve student achievement?


How can more focused planning – at the strategic, year group, and classroom level – deepen student understanding around comprehension of information texts, persuasive writing and the language of mathematics and contribute to wider improvement in children's achievement in literacy and numeracy?


How does the consistent use of strategies that make thinking visible across Grades 5-8 improve students' comprehension and problem solving abilities?


How can the development of collaborative learning communities enhance transition and student learning for years 5-8 at Tasman District School?

tidal rivulet

Overarching Goals

Irrespective of the AR question, each cluster worked towards the following global outcomes:

  • Enhanced pedagogical content knowledge of participating teachers in literacy/English and/or numeracy/Mathematics.
  • Enhanced understandings of how the transition between primary and high school can be improved.
  • Increased capacity of teachers to work together within and across year levels, both within and across schools and clusters
  • Enhanced understanding and usage of available data to inform and improve classroom practice and student learning.
  • Enhanced understanding of how teachers and the UTAS liaison staff can work together to achieve these goals.
  • The development and trial of a number of improvement initiatives which had the potential to be transferable to other schools.
  • Improved literacy and numeracy outcomes of students from Years 5 to 8 (primary and high school students).

Specific goals for each cluster

New Town – Ogilvie Cluster

  • Improved student understanding and application of place value across grades 5-8;
  • Teachers to develop shared, high level understanding of effective teaching strategies for place value; and
  • Schools to develop structure and processes that support consistent practice across 5-8.


  • Build capacity and the pedagogical subject knowledge (PCK) of teachers;
  • To improve written mathematical reasoning through the creation of rich and authentic mathematical tasks, problem-solving and working through some students' linguistic misconceptions around maths problems;
  • To improve persuasive and extended writing (Yr 5 – 8) through the piloting of new approaches and enhanced use of assessment for learning principles; and
  • To trial new strategies to best enable students to comprehend information texts, especially in terms of drawing inferences from more complex texts.


  • To reflect upon teaching literacy and numeracy through the lens of comprehension;
  • To investigate shared understandings and common approaches to teaching; with a particular focus on proportional reasoning and comprehension strategies across primary and secondary schools;
  • To develop a comprehension framework for numeracy and literacy which can be utilised across the cluster; and
  • To investigate how the cluster can enhance academic and social transition to secondary school.


  • To plan, implement and monitor lessons to improve student knowledge of proportional reasoning; and
  • 'SMART' goal: to implement a collaborative planning process by December 2013 that informs the way we teach to enhance transition through years 5 – 8 at Tasman District School.

Each cluster developed their own Action Research agenda aligned with the above aims.

While each school district modified and refined the implementation process to meet their needs, components of the process included:

  • All schools were required to meet 8 times per year (twice per term), incorporating:
    • one day collective session per term within each cluster, to reflect on progress and discussion issues on relevance across the group; and
    • two day in-service per term with UTAS (2013) tailored to suit each cluster's identified needs, and one day in-service per term with UTAS, utilising the second day for school-based PL (2014).
  • All schools were provided with full relief for classroom teachers and negotiated relief for principals with teaching responsibilities so that participating in the PL was possible.
  • The Department's Education Support Services (EPS) was available to provide the project with all state and national data and assistance with its utilisation (including support for the NAPLAN Toolkit) at the school / cluster level.
  • Principal Network Leaders and Lead Teachers were made available to support schools and their staff in managing the project.
  • The University of Tasmania engaged collaboratively with individual schools to ensure local needs were being met.

Sharon Fraser

Project Coordinator, Scottsdale District Cluster Liaison

Telephone: +61 3 6324 3083

Sharon's staff profile

Tracey Muir

Ogilvie-Newtown District Cluster Liaison

Telephone: +61 3 6324 3261

Tracey's staff profile

Peter Brett

Penguin District Cluster Liaison

Telephone: +61 3 6430 4932

Peter's staff profile

David Moltow

David Moltow

Tasman District Cluster Liaison

Telephone:+61 3 6226 1946

David's staff profile