The past year has not been an easy one for Tyrrell College, a government school with 162 students in the farming town of Sea Lake, in the state’s Mallee region.

When teaching went remote statewide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some students who lived on farms in internet blackspots could not join online classes. Then, during the VCE exam period, the community was rocked by the death of a local police officer, who was a parent at the school, in a road collision.

But students and staff pulled together, and Tyrrell College has recorded among its best results. Its VCE cohort recorded a decade-high median study score of 34, which puts them well above the state average of 30.

“The adversity those kids had to go through to get those results last year was phenomenal,” principal Mark Corrie said. “I don’t know how they did it.”

A whole-school photo of Tyrrell College, which had 162 students and 23 teaching staff in 2020. 

Tyrrell College has been named The Age’s 2021 Schools that Excel winner for rural/regional government schools for its sustained improvement in VCE results over the past decade.

You can view the full list of winning schools, and explore the data for your high school using this year’s Schools that Excel dashboard:

Mr Corrie said each year about 15 students at the prep-12 school would finish year 12 across VCE, VET and VCAL streams.

“One of our main advantages is that we have really small class sizes, so by year 12 kids basically have their own tutor,” he said.

He said a crucial part of the school was the strong relationships built up between students and teachers. Most students know the school’s VCE teachers from a young age, because those same teachers often run classes at lower year levels as well – for example, the VCE agricultural studies teacher also runs agriculture classes for primary school students.

Students from Tyrrell College’s year 12 cohort in 2020. 

“We are sort of like surrogate parents in a way, we get them really good VCE scores. We have a 100 per cent guarantee that each student who participates in VCE will get a first-round university offer, and we have delivered on that statement for the past five years.”

Students have gone on to study engineering, agronomy, nursing, teaching, veterinary sciences and medicine. But they are not simply funnelled towards VCE – Mr Corrie said there was about a 60/40 split between students opting for VCE or for vocational education.

“Because of the effort staff and students put together collaboratively, my staff don’t work a 38-hour week – they would be pushing 60 or 70. I actually have to tell them to slow down because that is how invested they are. I’ve worked as a principal in a number of schools, and their work ethic and their humility is amazing. I think I’ve found my happy place.”

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