When Matthew Knight was made principal of Cobram Primary School in rural Victoria in 2016, he set what he calls “man on the moon” targets, aimed at turning the whole school’s attitudes and outcomes around in five years.

The school was struggling with poor achievement, too many unexplained absences and community distrust.

Matthew reached his targets within three years by working with staff, a social worker who introduced a mindfulness curriculum and an educational consultant who helped teachers to focus on literacy and numeracy.

Year 3 NAPLAN results jumped from 15 per cent in the top two literacy bands in 2016 to 59 per cent two years later.

Numeracy also leapt ahead. In 2017, only 13 per cent of students achieved high gain levels between Years 3 and 5, but by 2018, this had increased to 67 per cent.

“The culture shifted towards learning from excellence rather than searching for deficit.”

The school has moved from the lowest performance ranking to the highest, and the model Matthew created for turning around his school is assisting other disadvantaged rural schools, with his improvement strategy shared with more than 50 schools in Victoria and NSW last year.