Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Secret Education Business

Imagine. You are moving to a new city from overseas or interstate and you want to know which school will best meet the needs of your children.

If you live in England, the answer is simple. Look at the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) Internet site and you can search for the name of a particular school and download the school’s inspection report.

Government-funded schools are inspected every six years and a written report is made publicly available. The report addresses questions such as: What sort of school is it? How high are standards? How well are pupils taught? How well is the school led and managed? Not only do inspectors evaluate the school, but schools are also identified as successful or underperforming.

In the language of OFSTED, inspectors have to decide:

… whether or not the school, although providing an acceptable standard of education, nevertheless has serious weaknesses, in one or more areas of its work; whether or not the school, although not identified as having serious weaknesses, is judged to be underachieving.

Unlike schools in Australia, where there are no official sanctions or rewards, English schools are evaluated and, if found wanting, face the consequences.

Such transparency is the opposite of the situation in Victoria, for example, where the Government refuses to rank schools or to make test results widely available.

In addition to inspectors’ reports, it is also possible to search the OFSTED Internet site to find out how well schools perform in national tests. In primary schools, for example, all 11-year-old students take tests linked to the national curriculum.

The test results are then posted on the Internet. Parents can search a database by postal code, by local education authority or by the name of a particular school. Shown against the national average and the average grades achieved by the local education authority are the grades achieved by individual schools.

Greater accountability and transparency are also being forced on American schools. President Bush’s recent national education bill (to the value of $US26.5 billion, 2002) requires state testing in reading and maths for every child from grades three to eight.

The bill also provides incentives for under-performing schools to improve.

First, under-performing schools receive additional funding;

second, if results still do not improve, students receive funding to pay for private tutoring.

Finally, if particular schools consistently fail to meet the grade, students will be allowed to transfer to more successful schools. Again, this is unlike Australia, where education departments and governments allow failing schools to put students at risk year after year, without any attempt to address the root cause of the problem.

Of course, those most to gain from keeping Australian parents in the dark—teacher unions and faceless education bureaucrats— argue that test results or inspectors’ reports should never be released.

Public exposure will destroy a school’s reputation and students’ self-esteem.

In answer to those resisting change.

First, comparing schools is not simply a matter of comparing apples with bananas. In England, research into how schools ‘value add’ to student performance is based on comparing schools with a similar socio-economic profile. Thus, schools from a wealthy area, with good facilities and parents able to afford the extras, are compared against similar schools, and not against those in less privileged areas.

Second, making results public, in most cases, leads to under-performing schools receiving additional funding and to standards improving.

As parents will agree, there is also the reality that good test results, by themselves, are not the sole reason why they might choose one school over another. But when such results are made public, parents are in a position to make a more informed decision.

All Australian departments of education have been collecting data about school performance for some years. State and Territory governments also have the results of literacy and numeracy testing, generally at grades three and five for all primary schools, since being introduced over the last eight to ten years.

In addition, school Year 12 school results are also available to rank schools. Given the rhetoric about accountability and empowering communities, one wonders when the Ministers of Education of the State and Territory Labor governments will make such information freely available.

The principle of being principal

Are our principals adequately trained for their jobs, and is the job the same now as it was 20, 50, or 100 years ago?

These are key questions and it is a task to get key people in education to think objectively and analytically about an issue that invariably evokes mainly a sentimental and emotional response.

The basic issue that needs to be realised in the early years of the 21st century is that the role of the head teacher as experienced in the 19th century and largely maintained throughout the 20th - is dead. Being a principal is not being a teacher.

And behind that premise is the underlying truth that being a good teacher is no guarantee of being s good principal. They are different professional roles.

It is likely that the research will find some quantum of data to substantiate the position many traditionalists want to maintain, and that is that being a principal is being an educational leader and that really means being the head teacher.

Too many principals say how they enjoy getting back to the classroom. Sometimes this may be to avoid the role of principal and to retreat to what was familiar and safe. Sometimes it is a requirement because the system does not yet fully recognise the responsibilities of being a principal and in smaller schools requires a teaching load on the part of the principal. But after many years of not teaching, or teaching very little, can a principal be more than the equivalent of a visiting teacher which isn’t necessarily to the students’ benefit.

Many years ago the former head of the Strathclyde education service in Scotland (at the time a system roughly equal in numbers to SA’s) said without equivocation, that when he became a principal, he STOPPED being a teacher.

He explained this very unambiguously. He said that as a teacher his job was to create the best learning environment for his students.

But as a principal the job was different. It was to create the working and organisational environment in which good learning and teaching could occur.

And as he climbed the career ladder, he indicated clearly that each job was a move from the previous, and with a substantially different, although connected responsibility to the one he has previously.

Until principals or aspirants to the position realise that their role IS to manage an organisation, some of which are large and complex, and that they are not a teacher with a part time administrative load we won’t witness the confidence and boldness which should be the hallmark of an inspirational leader and manager.

Certainly, administrivia should not be part of the principal’s load. Under local governance and management the principal’s job is to manage the resources, attract more, and to ensure the smooth running of the organisation.

Unfortunately, what for many public service managers and directors is de rigueur, is very new to many principals, and that is to run the organisation. For a 100 years the public education system has been founded on a dependency model that saw many management responsibilities handled by central clerks and administrative officers. Now those responsibilities are part of the principal’s role, and those of his/her management team, as they should be. But some seem ill prepared for this shift in responsibilities.

The problem is that principals are manifestly untrained and some even unprepared to do the job required. There is no training of any integrated or coherent nature to which aspirants to the position of principal can turn to ensure they are suitably qualified and acknowledged as having the skills and attributes to lead and manage a school.

Nor is there any systematic exposure of existing principals to contemporary management and organisational leadership professional development, or to have the opportunity to be partnered with senior managers from other areas of work.

Principalship is the keystone to great schooling, and to ensure the public confidence they deserve, we must recognise the role of principal needs people prepared, confident and bold to take on the responsibilities.

Sunday, 20 August 2006


A fundamental principle, and advantage, of local community governance is that there is a distinctive lay view on everything that happens in the school that should be taken into account at the earliest stage of any development.

Most of the reforms in public education, particularly in Australia, over the past 100 years, despite their intended effects, have generally seated the running of public education firmly at the centre – with departmental and industrial bureaucracies taking, at times, unyielding control.

But with the advent of community involvement in governance, that hegemony is being challenged.

In New Zealand, the UK, the Australian states of Victoria and South Australia, parts of the US and other public education systems throughout the world, local decision making in public schools is gaining currency with communities, is being resisted by unions and bureaucracies, and is making a difference.

Notwithstanding the indisputable aim of bettering student achievement, the central issue boils down to - "who’s in charge?"

The key questions in public schooling relate to just where the critical decisions about direction, policy, evaluation and standards are made. If state or public schools are to adequately serve 21st century communities, then clearly we need a governance structure that will bring about the effective servicing of those community needs.

Centralised control of public systems is an artefact of 100 years of 'doing it that way'. It is not divinely correct!! Critical decisions are made by people far removed from the classroom, and often who are bereft of an understanding of the needs and aspirations of those using particular schools.

It's time for public schools to go for straight A's – autonomy, authority and accountability.

The most pressing, and single most important issue in redefining public education and making it relevant and of high quality and worthy of public confidence, is the move from public school systems, to systems of public schools. After all, we as parents send our children to schools, not systems!!

Schools should have the autonomy and freedom to make decisions without interference from departmental or industrial bureaucrats far removed from the point of service delivery. They need the authority to make decisions happen, and they need to be accountable to the communities who are their primary clients – not conformance to rules and regulations, but rather performance for results.

But moving to local governance of schools is a major challenge, although successfully achieved in many schools throughout the world.

It means standing up to the political, industrial, economic and social interest groups who benefit from the bureaucratisation and centralised authority of public education, and to recognise that their protests, albeit sometimes, in the language of public concern, are in truth, just plain self-interest.

Public Education is in transformation both culturally and infrastructurally. The evolution of a 21st century relevant curriculum framework; a focus on the quality of teaching; the capacity of school leadership; the utility of our school facilities; the ongoing professional development of teachers; are all key issues for the present and for an innovative and meaningful future for students in our public schools.

The single most significant advantage of a framework of local governance and management is that it allows for the advocacy for continual improvement in all areas of public education, especially the governance and parent participation in decision-making and direction setting.

The process will be complex, the requirements extensive and the need for vigilance, expert negotiating skills, constructive obstinacy and a range of unique and innovative partnerships paramount.

In spite of resistance from conservative principals, many see the advent of strong, locally elected governing bodies as allies, sources of strength and an advance in the move to focus the efforts of schools on the needs and aspirations of their client group, rather than repeat the state determined 'one size fits all' form of education from which we are seeking to move.

School governing bodies provide a formal structure and framework for local decision-making and accountability.

They provide an opportunity for parents, teachers, students and the broader school community to participate in shaping the education delivered by schools through the development and expression of shared expectations.

Efforts by schools to develop in their students a capability for effective and active citizenship should be assisted by having an effective school governing body to demonstrate the benefits of open and informed decision-making.

It is especially important for school governing bodies is to have a significant and influential role in the selection of principals This reflects a view that, in order to secure a strong mutual commitment between a school community and its principal, it is important that the school community, through its governing body, has a direct role in the selection process. The involvement by school governing bodies in the selection of the educational leaders of government schools also reflects the partnership between government and local school communities in the delivery of educational services.

The key responsibility of school governing bodies should be to ensure that the student is the central focus of the organisational system as a whole, and to build the capacity of the school to manage its own affairs and to express the nature and needs of its local community within the framework of Government policy.

A distinguishing feature of public schools is that they are fully and publicly accountable for all aspects of their operation. Their answerability works in two directions. Each public school is responsible to the wider public through the Government for the exercise of its responsibilities. It is also accountable to its local community of users (through the school governing body) for the learning program it delivers and the outcomes that are achieved.

Through local governance there is significant potential for school governing bodies to:

  • support the establishment of conditions within and beyond the school that are conducive to student learning and achievement;
  • encourage student participation in the life of the school and the decisions that affect them, as well as advocate for the participation by parents and other community members in the work of the school;
  • develop ways in which all members of the school community can be consulted about future directions for the school;
  • defend and advocate for the educational interests and entitlements of the school and its students; and
  • support and advise the principal on connecting more effectively to the community and other relevant organisations.

The governing body is the keystone to building enhanced self-management. It is the public space in which the different needs, interests and responsibilities are reconciled and coordinated, and an essential support base and point of accountability for school management and leadership.

Empowerment of school communities, through parent controlled governing bodies, not only changes expectations and instils community confidence – it usually provides far better solutions to their problems than normal public services.

It can be argued that:

  • Community governance has more commitment to community members than service delivery systems have to 'their clients'.
  • Community governance understands community problems better than service professionals.
  • Community governance solves problems while professionals and bureaucracies deliver services.
  • Community governance offers “care”. Institutions and professionals offer 'service';
  • Community governance is more flexible and creative than large bureaucracies.
  • Community governance enforces behaviour standards more effectively than bureaucracies or professionals.
  • Community governance focuses on capacities; service systems focus on deficits (as government education systems are often based on a welfare model rather than an educational excellence model education).

In terms of student aptitude and achievement the equally most important influence is the school. But the traditional factors often over emphasised – teacher salaries, per student expenditure, class size – have little impact on school performance. The real keys are community governance, the clarity of the school’s mission, strong leadership, teaching quality and the degree of freedom and respect offered school communities (community ownership, a mission-driven organisation, and a decentralised authority). To develop these attributes schools need autonomy from excessive external control – from bureaucracies and unions. The more freedom that a school is granted to chart its own course, the more likely it is to become effectively organised.

Local governance and management has the capacity to be the means that holds schools accountable, not from the top down, but through the process of community-use, through achievements and demonstrable outcomes. Through governance we hold schools accountable by giving them autonomy – and by observing how well schools succeed in meeting the needs and aspirations, and therefore the support, of their parents and students.

Leaders can urge schools to improve; legislation can order schools to improve; outstanding principals can force schools to improve. But only community ownership through local governance can motivate schools to improve.

The history of governance in schools is the story of how ordinary people get to have a say in the running of their schools.

The Rationale For Community Governance

Why should there be community governance of schools at all? Why don't we just 'leave it to the experts'? Why don’t we just trust the professionals, and cheer them on from the bleachers?

Two Models for 'Delivering' Education

There are two ways of thinking about the involvement of ordinary people in decision-making in schools. These are founded on two ideological traditions. They are not mutually exclusive, and most of us carry elements of both traditions in our heads at the same time. (Gann, 1998)

The first might is described by Gann as the conservative tradition in which the customer or client is seen as:

  • Free from responsibility for the quality of the service, except by complaining about it, or taking ‘business’ elsewhere (if they can?).
  • Acting out of self-interest, rather than as a member of a potentially forceful society.
  • Reactive to services, rather than proactive.
  • Having a single, purchaser-provider relationship with services
  • Unlikely to have his/her relationship with the surrounding world altered by the provision of services.

The alternative might be described (says Gann) as a radical model .

In a radical model, the member of the community is seen as:

  • Responsible for the direction, content and quality of services.
  • Committed long term to the community, and having a complex set of relationships within it.
  • Acting in the interests of others as well as themselves.
  • Proactive, that is, initiating change.
  • Likely to develop an understanding of a relationship with the world that allows some control and a capacity for individual growth.

So what have we achieved through local governance and management. We have-

  • enlisted the expertise of the community in order to make the service more efficient and responsive;
  • furthered the cause of democratic participation in a state committed to active citizenship;
  • helped to educate the community, about education in particular;
  • 'pushed back the frontiers of the state' in public affairs;
  • given 'ordinary people' the final say in affairs which affect them, so bringing schooling within the mainstream wider society.

Ian Jamieson of the University of Bath in the UK (in Gann, 1998) has categorised three broad types of governing bodies. He suggests that far too many are really just supporter's clubs – doing not much more than approving the actions of the principal and cheering the school on from the bleachers. These rubber-stamping bodies can end up in all sorts of strife when they fail to accept their responsibilities and remain vigilant of the school's activities.

The second type of body described by Jamieson is the adversarial body – in which schools have failed to find a modus operandi (or way of doing things) which allows councillors to govern and principals to manage. While only a small number, it is these schools when conflict arises, that will get the publicity.

A growing number of governing bodies according to his research achieve the status wherein they take the role of critical friend – that is, one which helps to identify how well the school is doing and then participates to make it better. Increasingly the critical friend role is being interpreted as a proactive part. It requires a strategic view, a steering role, with the overall aim of maintaining and improving the quality of education and standards of achievement.

Evidence shows (Ofsted, 1994) that where governing bodies are fully involved in their school’s planning they have better informed and more effective oversight of the conduct of the school.

Good governance then, is about strategic and visionary leadership, and a means, of ordinary people getting to have a powerful say in the running of the schools in which their children are learning and developing.

Parental rights.

Parents or care givers have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and have the right to be consulted by state authorities with respect to the form that education should take and to take part in its governance. Parents have the inalienable right to choose the form of education which is best for their children particularly in the early years of schooling, whether provided by the state or not, subject to reasonable safeguards which may be required by law.

Public schools should have at least the following features on common:

  • each school should represent a partnership between the state and the local community;
  • the admission policies of public schools should be determined by governing bodies in consultation with the state department in terms of norms and regulations and should uphold guaranteed rights and freedoms;
  • the mission, policy and character or ethos of schools should be determined within national and state frameworks by a governing body comprising the main stakeholders in the school;
  • the salaries of teachers in each public school should be paid by the state department according to an allocation formula, and such teachers should be appointed in each public school by the state department on the recommendation of and in consultation with the school’s governing body and school management.

Decision-making authority in schools in the public education system should be shared among parents, teachers, the community and the learners in ways that will support the core values of democracy.

The sphere of governing bodies is governance, by which is meant policy determination, in which the democratic participation of the school’s stakeholders is essential.

The sphere of the school leadership is management, by which is meant the day-to-day organisation of teaching and learning, and the activities that support teaching and learning, for which teachers and the school principal are responsible and accountable.

These spheres can occasionally overlap, and there is likely to be considerable multiplicity in the exercise of governance and management roles, depending on the circumstances of each school, but within state standards and a quality framework.

Good public school governance requires a flourishing partnership, based on mutual interest and mutual confidence, among the many constituencies that make up and support the school.

In spite of the conservatism of some key players in public education as participating parents, we choose to go down the path to local governance, not because it is easy, but because it is a challenge; because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skill; because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one that we are unwilling to defer, and one of which we intend to make the most.