Brisbane’s newest secondary school, Brisbane South State Secondary College welcomed its first intake of Foundation Year 7 students in January 2021.

Situated in the heart of the “knowledge corridor” that includes prominent institutions like the Ecosciences Precinct (ESP), Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH), Translational Research Institute (TRI), and The University of Queensland (UQ), the school has been making waves in the education sector.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Executive Principal Kirsten Ferdinands to discuss the school’s journey over the past two years and its ambitions for the future.

An aerial image of Brisbane South State Secondary College with the city in the background
Brisbane South State Secondary College.


When the school was initially announced, it promised to deliver an innovative curriculum in collaboration with UQ, and it has been living up to that promise.

The school’s catchment extends from State High and Highgate Hill, stretching all the way down to Fairfield along the river as its natural boundary, and as far as Greenslopes. Several primary schools fall within the catchment area, creating a diverse student population.

The school started with Year 7 in 2021, and since then, it has been steadily expanding. Currently, they have students up to Year 9, and in 2024, they will welcome their first Year 10 cohort. The plan is to have full cohorts from Year 7 to 12 by 2026, accommodating approximately 1600 students.

With the increase in students, the school’s staff has also grown significantly. Every year, they onboard 12 to 15 teaching staff and ancillary staff to meet the needs of the expanding student body.

Ms Ferdinands stressed the importance of supporting the transition of new staff into the school, which involves extensive work on the school’s unique learning and pedagogical framework. This approach is integral to realising the school’s vision and strategic plan she said.

Buildings at Brisbane South State Secondary College
Brisbane South State Secondary College

Designed for innovation.

The school has been recognised globally as an example of innovative educational architecture and practice. In terms of its architectural design and its role as an innovative learning environment, the school’s architects, BVN, was shortlisted recently as one of the top five models of learning environment architecture worldwide.

The accolades didn’t stop at the design; the school has also earned numerous awards since its inception. Notably, it clinched the title of one of the most innovative schools for three consecutive years, showcasing its pioneering use of architecture to deliver curriculum and its innovative approach to learning design in collaboration with the University of Queensland and other partners. The school was also recognised for its exceptional use of technology in education. Awards have extended to the school’s STEM program, particularly the biomedical science academy in partnership with the University of Queensland. The school’s executive leadership has also been acknowledged.

Vision for a new standard of Education

Head shot of Executive Principal Kirsten Ferdinands.
Executive Principal Kirsten Ferdinands .

Ms Ferdinands said this vision constantly evolves to stay at the forefront of world-class education, challenging conventions, and fostering innovation.

The school places emphasis on students developing essential competencies, particularly in deep learning skills, which encompass communication, critical and creative thinking, collaboration, and citizenship. These competencies are intentionally woven into the fabric of their daily learning experiences, allowing students to identify their strengths and areas for improvement.

Ms Ferdinands said the school fosters learning where students exercise choice and voice in their education while recognising the need for teachers to guide students in developing skills to make informed decisions, collaborate effectively, and showcase their learning with confidence. She said trust is a fundamental element of this process, allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in ways that align with their individual choices while maintaining the necessary evidence to support their learning journey.

UQ Collaboration

The school’s relationship with the University of Queensland has been instrumental in shaping its vision and operations. The collaboration has provided a unique opportunity for both parties. It enables faculty and content leaders from the university to co-design curriculum alongside teachers while offering insights into the value that a university context can bring to the learning experience. The partnership extends to language programs, where students engage with the university’s Chinese and Spanish schools, providing valuable linguistic experiences.

Students at Brisbane South State Secondary College looking into a microscope.
Brisbane South State Secondary College students in the school’s STEM program.

AFL Academy

Sport is also valued at BSSSC. Ms Ferdinands said through the school’s collaboration with the University of Queensland, it has access to sporting facilities, complemented by soon-to-be-completed sports fields at Rocklea. This includes a dedicated AFL field.

BSSSC students have been participating in programs at the Gabba with the Brisbane Lions.

“My team alongside the AFL Academy staff, plan out what that program is going to look like every term.’

Ms Ferdinands says the school maintains an ongoing dialogue with the Lions’ general manager to explore future opportunities, ensuring students can make their mark in the Lions’ academy.

“In fact, a couple of our students earned spots in the first division of the Lions Academy last year.”

Brisbane South State Secondary College Brisbane South State Secondary College
Student with Lions Academy Staff.

Neighbouring Schools

Ms Ferdinands maintains strong relationships with school principals in Brisbane and South Brisbane, fostering collaboration and mutual support. There is an active deputy principals’ network and a department heads group that convenes to exchange curriculum plans and ideas.

“From the outset of my role, it was essential to establish respect and understanding with other schools in the area. We acknowledge that each school has its unique identity and offerings.

Families can select BSSSC based on the specific educational pathways offered. Ms Ferdinands says it’s important to recognise that each secondary school in the vicinity provides something unique, while still offering the Queensland or Australian Curriculum and the ATAR. This diversity allows families to choose the educational environment that aligns best with their children’s aspirations and needs.

Digital Challenges and Opportunities

Artificial Intelligence software is a recent and real challenge for schools, but it is embraced at BSSSC.

“It’s the same with social media, emails, the web, smart phones, all of those things. It’s about supporting our young people to use these tools ethically and make the right choices and smart choices.”

Ms Ferdinands says as students prepare for their future careers, it’s evident that AI will play a significant role, so the school encourages students to be discerning users of AI and always consider the source and context of AI-generated content. She says the prevalence of AI extends beyond the classroom, and students are likely to encounter it in their future workplaces. But she says, while AI can provide valuable starting points, a human touch is still needed to make critical decisions.

Principal Kirsten Ferdinands  standing with students at the front of Brisbane South State Secondary College.
Principal Kirsten Ferdinands with students.

Getting Results

Ms Ferdinands says that apart from the excitement of setting up the school and welcoming their first cohort of students the most exciting thing for her team now, is seeing the data sets comparing the school’s results with neighbouring schools, and schools across the state.

“And we’re not just meeting expectations, we’re exceeding all expectations.” “Its a proud principal moment when you know that your team is doing a great job.”

All images supplied