Frequently asked questions

The development of the School Success Model considered a range of primary and secondary research into best-practice educational governance, strategies to drive system-wide improvement to student outcomes, and effective methods of school reform design and evaluation. A condensed reference list is included below.

This summary outlines the three main research questions considered during the policy development of the School Success Model. Additional primary evidence included the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation’s Local Schools, Local Decisions (LSLD) evaluation interim report, final report, and the NSW Auditor General’s performance audit, Local Schools, Local Decisions: needs-based equity funding.

As regional and national schooling systems have grown and become more complex over the past decades, effective education governance has increasingly become the subject of research attention.

There are significant differences in the ways in which countries such as Australia, the UK, and the US have pursued reform. Given the large degree of variation in the size and complexity of education systems like these, evaluation of their different education governance structures does not provide definitive evidence to other countries about ideal system organisation and management.

The OECD has sought to address this gap in the evidence-base with their Strategic Education Governance project, which identifies and interrogates six interrelated domains of effective governance for further investigation: accountability, capacity, knowledge governance, stakeholder involvement, strategic thinking, and whole-of-system perspective.

Establishing strong accountability within education systems requires the clear allocation of responsibility for decision making, with corresponding mechanisms for outcome measurement. Both localised and centralised decision-making are associated with costs and benefits, and some policy actions require responsibility to be shared. The responsiveness of schools to their community, for example, means that principals are best-placed to make decisions about how to select remedial programs for students facing disruptions due to unforeseen events, where the institutional stability of the department enables it to oversee evaluation of the effectiveness of these resources. Decisions should be made according to consistent principles which take these costs and benefits into account and have transparent logic which can be applied to new policy contexts as priorities change.

Evidence from successful international education systems demonstrates that carefully calibrated accountability measures are vital in ensuring that school improvement lifts the performance of all schools, high expectations are maintained for all students, and outstanding performance is recognised in a range of school contexts. Education governance should be designed to maximise transparency while minimising accountability burdens, such as reporting and compliance costs, perverse incentives and inhibiting innovation, and this is why strengthened education governance is a central focus of the School Success Model. 

OECD research provides evidence of a relationship between school autonomy and accountability and improved student outcomes, in instances where autonomy and accountability are ‘intelligently combined’ (OECD 2010, as cited by NSW Department of Education and Communities 2012, p. 26).

In its LSLD final evaluation report, CESE recommended that schools should be subject to appropriate scrutiny and accountability around the decisions they make to target school and student outcomes, while the department should take a greater role in providing support to schools to make these local decisions.

The NSW Government's review of Local Schools Local Decisions was undertaken to ensure the right balance between autonomy, accountability, and support for schools.

The development of the School Success Model included consideration of system improvement programs in New Zealand and Ontario, Canada. While the differences between each system are considerable, both Ontario and New Zealand serve cohorts with demographic similarities to New South Wales and have developed promising programs that target support resources to schools according to performance and need.

One feature the two systems share is the use of student outcome data to target support to underperforming schools and disadvantaged student cohorts. The Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership program, for example, provides support to schools that underperform in comparison to contextually comparable schools, where this support is tailored according to need. In New Zealand, research has indicated the effectiveness of data-targeted support in addressing the needs of disadvantaged cohorts, with particular success in improving educational outcomes for Māori and Pasifika student cohorts in a variety of outcome areas, including literacy, numeracy, and participation in tertiary education.

In order to effectively and equitably drive performance improvement, performance accountability frameworks must be appropriately calibrated. This requires the reform program to:

  1. determine a range of nuanced performance targets, avoiding the creation of perverse incentives
  2. select corresponding accountability measures, and evaluate performance against these measures with consideration of school and student context
  3. develop school support mechanisms which are fit-for-purpose, provided in a timely manner, and evaluated regularly.

Another common feature of many high-achieving education systems is the use of programs to facilitate collaboration between high-performing schools and educators via research networks and professional learning communities. Research networks capitalise on the expertise of teachers and encourage peer-to-peer learning and the alignment of evidence and practice. In Ontario, for example, the Leading Student Achievement: Networks for Learning project, developed in partnership between principals and the Ontario Ministry for Education, was identified by principals to be particularly impactful because of the way the project linked research and professional practice.

Successful reform strategies distinguish between the needs of schools operating in different contexts but also take advantage of the benefits of system size by encouraging collaboration between schools and practice-led research. In response, the School Success Model has sought to incorporate non-punitive use of performance data that is regularly reviewed for effectiveness.

The School Success model has also been developed in response to feedback regarding the necessity of clearly defined program aims and the importance of careful implementation management and evaluation.

Evaluation of system-wide education reform initiatives also highlights the necessity of well-planned policy implementation, the delivery of appropriate support to school staff, and the need for reform programs to be designed for flexibility, adaptability, and to include regular evaluation and adjustment.

Evaluations of both the 2013 LSLD reform and of policy programs involving the redistribution of decision-making authority in other Australian jurisdictions have emphasised the importance of capacity building and implementation management when designing system reforms. Where there is a focus on capacity building and implementation management, this helps to minimise disruption to schools. The need for robust program logic design was also identified in CESE’s evaluation and the NSW Auditor General’s audit of the 2013 LSLD reform, including the identification of clear policy objectives, evaluation criteria, outcome measurement, and robust reporting requirements

The phased implementation and regular evaluation schedule of the School Success Model have been developed to address these concerns, allow for the development and refinement of appropriate evaluation criteria, and support flexibility as our schooling system evolves.

Additional references

List is non-exhaustive; citation does not imply endorsement.
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