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The learning program that transformed Granville Boy School’s reputation

8 Jul 2024, by Amy Sarcevic

Ten years ago, Granville Boys High School in Sydney’s West was known to the public for all the wrong reasons. With low ATARs and a poor learning culture, the school regularly got a bad rap in the media, where it was once described a “tough school”.

Today, Granville Boys High has maintained its fame but transformed its reputation. Enrolments have sky-rocketed from 490 to 780 in the past five years, and the public school now boasts an impressive 200-person waiting list, with people fighting for homes in its catchment.

“Local residents used to lie about their address, to avoid being placed at Granville Boys High. Now the opposite is occurring, and we have people moving to the area to secure a spot,” said Deputy Principal Fiona Donnelly.

So what has changed?

Robotics program

Ms Donnelly, who has worked at the school since 2013, says one intervention in particular has made an impact.

“We introduced a robotics and STEAM program in 2020 and it has been a huge success,” she said, ahead of Informa’s STEM Education Conference.

“We started out with a small amount of funding to buy equipment, but as the program became more successful we attracted sponsorship and expanded it to meet student demand.”

The project-based learning initiative began with humble ambitions, aiming to boost students’ 21st century skills. In turn, it has transformed the school’s learning culture, with benefits that have rippled into many aspects of the student experience.

“Where we once had disengaged students, we now have the opposite – students who are really keen to learn and come to school each day.

“Over the years, the program has also helped to develop a really positive school hierarchy, where older students mentor younger students and become role models. It is structured around learning but has branched out into friendships.”

The program features timetabled lessons and dedicated facilities, which remain open to students during recess and lunchtime.

“They have become a meeting place where students develop STEM skills in a positive prosocial environment,” Ms Donnelly said.

International recognition

As well as onsite learning, the school now competes internationally in robotics contests – and the experience is helping students flourish.

“We recently did a competition in Long Beach, then flew over to Houston Texas to visit the NASA space centre. That was a huge thing for our school.

“No-one would have imagined our students doing that years ago, so it’s been great to prove to ourselves and our community what we can do with our hard work. It’s brought a positive vibe to our student culture and been really motivating.”

Representing one of the few public schools – and ranking high – in each contest has also been a source of pride.

“There are lots of comps and most of the contestants are private schools. We are proud to give this opportunity to our students and send out the message that it doesn’t matter what postcode you live in, you can access the same opportunities as anybody – and do really well.

“We came 14th out of 84 teams in a recent comp at Western Edge and in some tournaments we are in alliances with students from independent schools such as Scots and King’s. It’s wonderful to see that there are no barriers when it comes to skills and learning.”

A major uplift in its reputation has been a welcome knock-on effect of competing at this scale.

“The perception of school has changed in the media and community. We’ve had nothing but positive coverage and we’ve become the local school of choice,” Ms Donnelly said.


Alongside competing, Granville students are given opportunities to share with others. Recently, the school has visited areas in regional Australia who are doing it tough, to pass on its robotics expertise.

“Last year we went up to Richmond River High School in Lismore, which was recently flooded out and earmarked for demolition. Communities were traumatised and many were still in temporary accommodation. We took our robotics program up there and our student got to mentor others, teaching them coding and robotic skills.

“Sharing brings the best out in our students and fun was had all round.”

ATARs are improving

The benefits of the program have extended beyond its robotics curriculum, with the positive learning culture it helped to inspire serving students in each domain of study.

“We’ve improved our academic scores throughout the school and last year we had a top ATAR of 96.7 That particular student competed in our robotics program and is now studying optometry. He has topped off a fantastic education at the school with a great career.

“Students have said for themselves what a wonderful education they have had and how it has served them for the future,” Ms Donnelly said.

Commitment from teachers

Ms Donnelly, who is fresh back from a competition in Long Beach California said the initiative required more input from teachers, some of whom have sacrificed weekends to meet the demands of contests.

“I myself am working this weekend, but I don’t mind a bit,” she said.

“This program has given us all a renewed sense of energy and pride in what we do. Yes, it takes more commitment, but it pays off dividends.

“We are proud to say we work for Granville Boys High.”

Looking ahead

Despite the program’s success, Ms Donnelly says she is not getting complacent. Alongside future plans to compete, she has her heart set on expansion.

“We have such a huge demand from students, so we will keep doing more to meet that.”

To learn more about the initiative and what Ms Donnelly has in store for it, join her for a discussion at the upcoming STEM Education Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be held 30-31 July at the PARKROYAL Darling Harbour, Sydney.

Learn more and register your tickets here.

About Fiona Donnelly

Fiona Donnelly is Deputy Principal of Granville Boys High School in Sydney. Since joining the school in 2013, Ms Donnelly has played a key role in improving its reputation and enrolments.

Alongside the creation of an Innovative Learning faculty, Ms Donnelly has coordinated the school’s STEAM and Robotics program, helping students rank high in global competitions. She is passionate about providing quality public education.

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