Schools Rewarding excellence: this year’s state teaching awards

Victoria’s outstanding public school teachers, principals and support staff have been celebrated at the 2023 Victorian Education Excellence Awards (VEEA), with Minister for Education Ben Carroll applauding the commitment and passion of teachers, leaders and school staff across Victoria.

The AEU would like to congratulate all AEU members who were nominated, and the following AEU member winners.


Paul Baks from Belle Vue Park Primary School, who won the Outstanding Physical Education and Activity Teacher award for his role setting up a school netball team.

“I was coaching the inter-school netball team and they were awesome,” Paul explains. “We made it to the semi-finals and lost a close one. None of the girls played outside of school.”

At the school, which has a mostly Muslim population, Paul found that while 60% of the boys played sport outside of school, only one girl played. “It kept eating at me. So I decided to establish a netball team that would play in a competition at Darebin netball stadium. But there were a couple of major barriers: cost, and getting girls to the game. So we held off for six months and started raising money, all the while training the girls every recess and lunchtime.”

“We got some money together, and a colleague who lived locally organised to drive a car full of girls to games. We played the second half of last year, played our first half a dozen games in school uniform, and didn’t win many games. I was posting a lot on local social media sites and got a few sponsors. We bought dresses, the girls kept training, and we finished the season with a few wins. We sold Zooper Doopers at school to raise revenue, and we had a bunch of younger girls at school get involved with the recess and lunchtime training.”

Fast-forward a year and they have two teams: the under-13s, the Big Panthers, who are mostly at high school, and an under-11 team made up of Grades 4 and 5 – the Baby Panthers. The Big Panthers, who train after school on Wednesdays, now sit on top of the ladder. There are girls who are not permitted to play on Saturdays who train with the girls daily.

“The Baby Panthers sit mid-table but are improving weekly,” Paul says. “We also have the Baby Panthers train a group of 20-plus Prep to Grade 3 kids on a Friday at lunchtime. They are the Pink Panthers!”


Check out this mini documentary about the Panthers.

And donate to the Panthers by emailing Paul here: [email protected].

“To me,” says Paul, “this award is recognition of the importance of building community. Many of our families come from cultures where strong community exists, and report feeling isolated here not knowing their neighbours. Schools can’t just be buildings.”


Clare Monk from Warrnambool West Primary School won the Outstanding Primary Principal award.

“Whilst it is an individual award about recognition of my work, really it’s a team effort for every one of my staff members,” says Clare. “We shared the vision and confronted the challenges and made sure we have a balance of learning and wellbeing. I am humbled because there are lots of principals out there and leading a school is not an easy task, so I’m immensely proud. It’s the highlight of my career.”


Ruth Chambers from Wonthaggi Primary School won the Outstanding Primary Teacher award.

“What an honour it has been to receive this prestigious award,” says Ruth. “The work that I have been privileged to lead is underpinned and guided by Senior Boonwurrung Elder Aunty Fay Muir and many other local First Nations community members. Their presence gives our programs credibility and we are grateful for their essential role at our school. We have a team approach at Wonthaggi Primary School, with staff demonstrating a commitment to the process of learning alongside our students and families.”


Elizabeth Ferguson from Pascoe Vale Girls College won the Outstanding Secondary Teacher award.

“Being nominated for this award was a complete shock, let alone actually winning. It’s such an honour to be recognised,” says Elizabeth. “Without the time, resources and support from other teachers at my school, I would not have been able to achieve high academic results of students, improve their general wellbeing, or build meaningful relationships. Hopefully, other schools can be inspired by the programs I’ve implemented and use them to strengthen connectedness within their schools.”


Kendall Heycox from Corryong College won the Outstanding Early Career Primary Teacher award.

“I’m surrounded by that many teachers who deserve awards and do amazing things so this shows that when you work with a really great team, what the individuals are able to do,” says Kendall. “I feel lucky to have so many great mentors in the teaching profession. I am very proud and very thankful to those who have supported me along the way.”


Alice Hu from Elevation Secondary College won the Outstanding Early Career Secondary Teacher award.

“I think it’s really just kind of validation and encouragement to keep improving my practice and ensuring the learning outcomes for my students and supporting all their levels of development,” says Alice. “I will keep going down the path I’ve built my passions on. It’s really solidified that.”


And huge congratulations, too, to all of the AEU members in the teams below for their incredible work:

  • Balwyn High School – winners of the Lindsay Thompson Excellence in Education award
  • Wangaratta West Primary School – winners of the Outstanding School Improvement award
  • Mooroopna Park Primary School – winners of the Outstanding Education Support Team award
  • Bentleigh West Primary School – winners of the Outstanding Inclusive Education Team award
  • Swan Hill Specialist School – winners of the Outstanding Koorie Education Team award
  • Daylesford Primary School – winners of the Outstanding Provision for High-Ability Students (Primary) award
  • Balwyn High School – winners of the Outstanding Provision for High-Ability Students (Secondary) award
  • Werribee Secondary College – winners of the Dr Lawrie Shears Outstanding Global Teaching and Learning award

For more information on the finalists and winners, visit the VEEA website.

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