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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Building a Learning Community: improving Indigenous student outcomes at Manunda Terrace Primary School, Northern Territory

Terrence Quong
Dr Terry Quong is Principal, Manunda Terrace Primary School

This case study presents an improvement process that is achieving better results for primary students undertaking the Northern Territory's Multilevel Assessment Program.

Manunda Terrace Primary School is an urban school of 310 students (T-7), approximately one third of whom are Indigenous children. The school also provides for 110 itinerant Indigenous children who come in from rural communities to live for various periods of time.

In 2003 Manunda Terrace Primary School set itself the goal of improving its results for the Multilevel Assessment Program (MAP), a system-wide assessment of all Year 3, 5 and 7 students in numeracy and literacy. To achieve this goal, the school adopted a holistic approach that encompassed three key strategies: the Strong Men Strong Model program, the Early Childhood Assessment and Monitoring program, and the Modified Manunda Literacy Program.

This approach required a great deal of energy and commitment by all staff, and, in particular, a commitment by classroom teachers to building connections between people - to becoming a learning community. The approach recognises that it is the energy and focus of the classroom teachers, Inclusion Support Assistants and tutors that ultimately lead to improved student outcomes and enhanced literacy and numeracy.

What we did

After a series of meetings, our elected Learning Leadership Team, with the agreement of the whole staff, decided on three parallel strategies for improving MAP results.

  • Strategy 1. 'Strong Men - Strong Models'
Under this program, six young Indigenous males from the community have been employed to act as role models, mentors and in-class tutors. They have also delivered a 'skills' clinic and a sports program at lunch times and after school. The work of these men has been closely supervised and programmed with daily meetings with the program coordinator. All of the males employed in this program have strong associations with local families or sporting organisations in Darwin.

  • Strategy 2. Early Childhood Student Assessment and Monitoring.
The Early Years Easy Screen (EYES) and Neale Scales are used to assess all Transition and Year 1 students, to identify students at risk and to develop individual support programs for them. The teacher then works with the Special Education Teacher to plan appropriate programs to meet the needs of their class. Students with high level needs are immediately identified and Individual Education Plans are developed.

  • Strategy 3. Modified Manunda Literacy Program (MMLP)
The school has adapted the LADD (Lindamood Auditory Discrimination in Depth) program, designed to provide intensive literacy recovery for students identified as being 'at risk'. The program includes regular assessment of all students, using the Kaufman program to track achievement. As a direct result of the close links the school has made with Charles Darwin University, MMLP has been incorporated into the University's pre-service training of teachers as an accredited workshop.

What we have achieved

We have achieved significant increases in student enrolments and retention rates, and we have noticeably improved behaviour and school culture. Most importantly, we have achieved our main goal, which was to attain significant improvement in the MAP results from 2002 to 2003.

System Wide Assessment Results

Data - MAP Results

Interpretation of Results

2002 MAP Numeracy Yr 3

2003 MAP Numeracy Yr 3

94% achieved benchmark

98% achieved benchmark

4% improvement

80% Indigenous achieved benchmark

100% Indigenous achieved benchmark

100% Indigenous students benchmarks

2002 MAP Reading Yr 3

2003 MAP Reading Yr 3

84% achieved benchmark

89% achieved benchmark

5% improvement

55% Indigenous achieved benchmark

91% Indigenous achieved benchmark

36% improvement

2002 MAP Numeracy Yr 5

2003 MAP Numeracy Yr 5

73% achieved benchmark

92% achieved benchmark

19% improvement

50% Indigenous achieved benchmark

73% Indigenous achieved benchmark

26% improvement

2002 MAP Reading Yr 5

2003 MAP Reading Yr 5

84% achieved benchmark

92% achieved benchmark

8% improvement

50% Indigenous achieved benchmark

82% Indigenous achieved benchmark

32% improvement

As is evident from the comparison of 2002 and 2003 MAP results data above, our approach to improving literacy and numeracy results has been highly successful. There have been outstanding improvements in percentages of students achieving benchmarks in all cohorts (Year 3 and Year 5) in reading and numeracy. Most importantly, 100% of Indigenous students achieved benchmark in Year 3 numeracy, and there was an increased achievement from 55% to 91% in reading. Given that approximately a third of our school population are Indigenous, and that many have come from non-urban backgrounds, this is a result of which we are very proud.


Keene, A. (2000) Complexity Theory: the changing role of leadership Industrial and Commercial Training Vol 32, No 1, pp 15-18.
Prawat, R.S., 1993, The role of the principal in the development of learning communities, Wingspan, Vol 9, No 3, pp 7-9.
Egan, T. (2004) Letter to Principal re visit to school, 16 April 2004
Devlin, B. (2004) Evaluation of the Modified Manunda Literacy Program Charles Darwin University, March


Subject Headings

Aboriginal students
Northern Territory
Primary education