26 SES 09 B, Educational Leadership And Accountability – Insights Into A Complex Relationship
Globalisation has been a critical catalyst for contemporary educational reforms since the 1970s. Like many international contexts, Australia’s desire to embrace global integration underpinned its reform agenda of the 1980s, seeking to improve efficiency and competitiveness in public and private sectors. Ideologically, educational reform was viewed as a strategy for increasing opportunities for social mobility and equity (Cranston et al, 2010). Specifically, the shift from delivering education through highly centralized structures towards more empowered local education units aimed to improve not only the efficiency of the educational enterprise but also to generate enhanced student learning outcomes (Farazmand & Pinkowski, 2007; O’Leary et al, 2010). Since 1987, the Western Australian Education Department alternately between decentralisation with recentralisation of authority to schools. The release of the document, Better Schools Report in 1987 set the future direction of self-determining schools as the key reform in education (Better Schools Report, 1987). In 2009 the first trial of Independent Public Schools (IPS) was announced, and by 2017 70 per cent of public school students and teachers are in IPS (Collier, 2016).
As in Australia, countries such as Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA faced the increasing cost in delivering public education, unwieldy bureaucracies and poor educational standards (Mourshed et al, 2010; OECD, 2001). These problems have been addressed by policies promoting decentralisation of authority, decision-making and financial responsibility from a central agency to the local school (Caldwell & Spinks, 1998). Neo-liberal policies to free schools from bureaucracy and promote competition, choice, efficiency, and accountability aimed to redefine education as a commodity delivered more efficiently by market forces (Grace, 1994). Others (eg Barrera-Osorio et al, 2009; Court & O’Neill, 2011) saw community participation in school decision-making to be a key strategy for ensuring the school meets local needs.
In the context of England, an autonomy-driven school improvement approach was adopted. The introduction of Academies (Beckett, 2007; Beder, 2009; Walford, 2013) and Free Schools (Eyles, et al, 2015; West & Bailey, 2013) aimed to address entrenched failure in schools with low performance. The expectation was that schools would use their greater independence to manage effectively and innovatively to improve student outcomes. Similarly, the USA’s Charter School model was a legally and financially autonomous public school, freed from State and District regulations and accountable for student outcomes (Angrist et al, 2013; Herbst, 2006). Norway’s educational reforms included decentralisation of decision making with the aim of using resources more efficiently and improving secondary school attendance and student outcomes (OECD, 2015). Similarly, Denmark has moved from highly centralised control to decentralised self-regulated schools to make schools accountable to their communities, increase choice and improve quality (Anderson & Helgøy, 2007).
Similar international reforms embracing devolved school management has responded to prevailing economic, political, and social priorities. However, research reveals that devolved school management has been implemented in developed and less developed nations with varying degrees of success (Cassen et al, 2014; Clark, 2009; Dobbie & Fryer, 2013). While judgements about what constitute a successful outcome of devolving authority to the local level depend on many data sources and the elapse of considerable time, it is possible to examine participants’ experiences of the process of implementing devolution policies in particular cases. This Western Australian study sought the perspectives of key stakeholders in three schools at two points in the first year of implementation.
The research question was: What are the perspectives of stakeholders on the implementation of Independent Public School status in the first year of operation in three metropolitan secondary schools in Western Australia? Relevant stakeholders were defined as Principals, Deputy Principals, Business Managers, teachers, and School Board Chairs.
The study adopts an interpretivist approach (Charmaz, 2009) within the symbolic interactionist theoretical framework (Blumer, 1969) to generate rich descriptions of the perspectives of stakeholders. The research employed a point in time study, focusing on the perspectives that participants have on a specific matter at specific points in time (O’Donoghue, 2007). Data were collected twice, at the start and the end of the first 12 months of implementation of the IPS policy, with the aim of understanding the nature and extent of variation in perspectives during this period. Specifically, the research examined the expectations held by stakeholders at the start of implementation and the extent to which these expectations were realised in the first year of operation. The three schools were selected to provide maximum variation in size and socioeconomic status (Punch, 1998) while controlling for school type (secondary, Years 8-12), location (metropolitan Perth), and IPS cohort (third cohort of successful applicants for IPS status). Ethics approval was obtained from both the university and the WA Department of Education and, from the latter, access permission was gained prior to embarking on the study. The interview schedule was provided in advance of the meeting, and was applied consistently across 5 different stakeholder sets and two time points. Opportunities were provided for participants to elaborate and contextualize their responses. Coding and thematising of transcripts generated three key concepts, about which variation of perspectives was identified, between and within stakeholder sets, and across time points. Illustrative examples were chosen to enrich and highlight differences and similarities of perspectives.
Findings identify three concepts: flexibility; autonomy; and accountability. Overwhelmingly, principals expected IPS status would allow increased flexibility in making staffing decisions and in budget allocation. However, their high expectations were not realised. After one year, principals found their efforts to select staff were constrained by bureaucratic procedures relating to redeployment of staff whose expertise or work ethic did not meet their requirements. Local selection was seen to be time consuming, and teachers experienced increased workloads during the first year of IPS implementation. In contrast, principals’ expectations of their enhanced autonomy under IPS were realised. Schools’ new autonomy fostered greater curricular innovation and enhanced the student learning outcomes because teachers took greater ownership for outcomes, contradicting much of the extant research (for example, Berends, et al., 2009; De Grauwe, 2005). However, the study highlights the complexity of the concept of autonomy. Schools within a system can hardly be autonomous, because they are linked in intricate webs of legislative, regulatory and policy frameworks (Gobby, 2013; Jacobs, 2016). The WA IPS model does not grant freedom from the same constraints from which the US Charter Schools are released. IPS status does not imply autonomy, and ‘Independent’ does not mean independence from the central education system. Accountability was not expected to change, from principals’ perspectives. A long history of dependency and accountability has bred generations of low risk taking in this education authority. However, in the first year of implementation, accountability was found to increase in intensity. IPS status with its Strategic Planning, target setting and School Boards has led to increased demands for evidence to support decisions, and data to demonstrate student learning improvement. School communities were more involved in Boards, generating local level accountability, but also conflicts about the boundaries of responsibility of Board members in daily operational matters.
Angrist, J., Pathak, P. and Walters, C. (2013). Explaining Charter School Effectiveness. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 5, pp. 1-27. Barrera-Osorio, F., Fasich, T., and Patrinos, H. A. (2009). Decentralized Decision-Making in Schools: The Theory and Evidence on School-Based Management. Washington DC: World Bank. Beckett, F. (2007). The great City Academy fraud. London, United Kingdom: Continuum. Berends, M., Penaloza, R. V., Cannata, M., and Goldring, E. (2009). Instructional Innovation, School Choice and Student Achievement. Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. Better Schools Report. (1987). Better Schools in Western Australia: a program for improvement, presented by the Hon. R. J. Pearce, MLA, Minister for Education. Perth, Australia: Western Australian Government Printer. Cassen, R., McNally, S. and Vignoles, A. (2014). Making a Difference in Education. London, United Kingdom: Routledge. Collier, P. (2016). More public schools to gain independent status. Media Statement. Perth, Australia: Government of Western Australia, 5 February 2016. Cranston, N., Kimber, M., Mulford, B., Reid, A., and Keating, J. (2010). Politics and school education in Australia: a case of shifting purposes. Journal of Educational Administration, 48(2), pp. 182-195. De Grauwe, A. (2005). Improving the Quality of Education through School-Based Management: Learning from International Experiences. International Review of Education. 51(4), pp. 269-287. Eyles, A., Hupkau, C., and Machin, S. (2015). Academies, Charter and Free Schools: Do New School Types Deliver Better Outcomes. 62nd Panel Meeting, Hosted by the Banque Centrale du Luxembourg Luxembourg, 16-17 October 2015. Farazmand, A. and Pinkowski, J. (2007). Handbook of Globalization, Governance, and Public Administration. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. Gobby, B. (2013). Enacting the Independent Public Schools program in Western Australia. Issues in Educational Research, 23(1), pp. 19-34. Jacobs, G. G. (2016). IPS Report Card: The Report of the Inquiry into the Independent Public Schools initiative. Education and Health Standing Committee. Perth, Australia: Parliament of Western Australia. Mourshed, M., Chijioke, C. and Barber, M. (2010). How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better. London, United Kingdom: McKinsey & Company. O’Leary, R, Van Slyke, D. M., and Kim, S. (2010). The Future of Public Administration, Public Management and Public Service Around the World. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2001). Schooling for Tomorrow: What Schools for the Future ? Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Walford, G. (2013). Blair’s Educational Legacy ? London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
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