Ashley Stewart

Newton Moore Senior High School, Bunbury, Australia

Ashley  Stewart

Ashley first understood her passion for teaching as an engineering student at the University of Wollongong. Noticing that the male students on her course outnumbered the females by about 8 to 1 – a ratio even higher for indigenous women – she wanted to help dissolve the gender gap. But she realised that she could only make a difference by teaching younger girls about the benefits of STEM careers and how to get into them.

Since then she has taught in a number of different schools – from a private Montessori to a public high school with a 20 per cent indigenous population. Many of her students are from traumatic backgrounds and have to overcome many barriers just to get there. (The school offers support, but Ashley often also buys them food with her own money and uses award funds for special projects to provide further help.) Her teaching work is focused on increasing the female student uptake of STEM subjects in upper school classes, and boosting the academic achievement and engagement of girls in maths and science.

To help students overcome obstacles to achievement, she has also put her energy into upskilling other staff, promoting the introduction of STEM programs for Aboriginal girls, creating a spatial training program, and founding an inventors club. Results have shown around twice as many students achieving satisfactory grade levels, which also means her school has pulled ahead of comparable institutions in results. Lower-set students have made huge gains, and staff have seen higher levels of engagement and fewer behavioural issues. As a result, larger numbers of students are taking higher-level mathematics courses, with enrolments doubling in 2020.

Ashley has earned a reputation for being a versatile, dedicated and creative teacher with a commitment to optimising student success. Working on the school’s Networking committee, she has created partnerships with other Australian schools, the Singapore Chinese Girls School in Singapore, and the Engineering department at a nearby university. She was the recipient of the 2013 Graduate Teacher of the Year award, the 2017 National CHOOSEMATHS Mentoring Girls in Maths award, and a finalist for the 2018 Western Australia Secondary Teacher of the Year. With the Global Teacher Prize money, she would look at helping fund the Role Models Girls Academy, which currently has no federal support. In the long term, she would like to fund scholarships for students to study mathematics education at university and help get graduates into remote regional areas where teachers are needed.