Overview of research on Australian educational leadership 2001–05
Number 40, July 2007
The author reviews articles on the topic of educational leadership appearing in four Australian education journals, 2001–05: the Australian Journal of Education, the Australian Educational Researcher, Leading & Managing and the Journal of Educational Administration. The review found that ‘adjectival’ descriptions of leadership styles need significant elaboration if they are to capture the complexities faced by educational leaders. For example, ‘positional transformational leadership’, which involves building a collaborative culture to improve teaching and learning, has a direct influence on learning, but requires adequate consultation and the development of a sense of staff ownership, and it can have negative impact if transformation is attempted too early or too forcefully. A range of other points emerged from the literature. Different types of principals are needed for different types of schools. Principals in small rural schools face the distinctive problems of isolation, educational conservatism in the community and teaching workload. The review of the four journals also suggests that there is a paucity of Australian education literature about leadership. Over the five years the journals contained only 64 articles on educational leadership, 14% of the total, and only 44 of them focused directly on leadership. In terms of quality, most of the articles focus on only one State, usually New South Wales, Victoria or Tasmania. There are few longitudinal studies and most are small scale. There is also ‘an aversion to building on or referencing previous research’ and a preference for ‘material of questionable quality from other countries’. The lack of Australian material was also revealed in previous studies, including a report by Louise Watson for Teaching Australia in 2005; and the 2003 Leaders Lead report for the APAPDC. Australian researchers should take responsibility for the timely and effective dissemination of their work. However, the adoption of a ‘UK style research quality framework’ by Australian universities may push Australian researchers to publish work in high status overseas journals rather than those that are locally based.
Looking back to look forward: understanding the present by revisiting the past: an Australian perspective
Volume 3 Number 2, 2007; Pages 8–28
The ‘whole language’ approach to language learning arose in the 1970s in reaction to a highly prescriptive curriculum compartmentalised into separate subjects such as handwriting and composition. Advocates of what became known as ‘whole language’ also saw a need to adapt English teaching in the light of growing numbers of NESB immigrants. These advocates took a child-centred approach to learning and saw children’s literature and children’s oral or written stories as vehicles to teach various skills and knowledge such as phonics, vocabulary and punctuation. The focus on the child as learner served to challenge and update theories of learning, and generated ideas of the teacher as researcher. Reading became understood as meaning making rather than simply decoding. Learning to read now became seen as an ongoing process beyond Grade 2, and as a means, along with the cultivation of information skills, to learn other knowledge. ‘Process writing’ stimulated closer analysis of, and attention to, individual student learning, now being captured by new assessment practices and closer records of student progress. Teachers were driven to deepen pedagogic knowledge through far more extensive professional development. Significantly, grammar was de-prioritised in the curriculum. During the 1980s the whole language approach peaked in popularity. The concept of literacy rather than reading or writing came into use. By the late 1980s there was closer attention to the various purposes and audiences for writing. However, the late 1980s and the 1990s saw an aggressive reaction against whole language. The reaction was spearheaded by phonics-based approaches to literacy learning, but was also accompanied by powerful political and media campaigns, which argued that whole language teaching had led to falling literacy standards. These forces demanded closer accountability for education spending, and exaggerated the contribution of literacy teaching to solving poverty and unemployment. As in the 1960s, Australian governments are moving to mandate particular teaching methods and materials. However, the fundamental ideas of the whole language approach have been embodied in alternative current trends, which emphasise multiliteracies, social justice, cultural awareness, the interconnectedness of language, and the notion of teachers as researchers.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
English language teaching
Volume 3 Number 2, June 2007; Pages 30–66
The OECD has collected evidence of the educational attainment of 15 years olds, through its PISA 2000 and 2003 international surveys. The results identify Australia as one of the world’s best performing countries in terms of overall literacy education. There is a ‘paradox’ in responses to this result. Some Australian Government statements have highlighted Australian students’ strong literacy performance. However, the Government has endorsed the findings of the 2004 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy that expressed deep concern about literacy standards, criticised whole language approaches to literacy and called for more phonics-based instruction. The whole language approach does not ignore the importance of phonics instruction but believes it should be introduced after children have engaged with meaningful language in whole texts. By contrast phonics-based approaches argue that reading instruction should start with the study of components of words. This educational debate has become heavily politicised. The article traces a campaign of ‘moral panic’ conducted in The Australian newspaper over several years, centred on the claim that whole language teaching has caused a crisis in literacy levels. Supporters of this claim responded in various ways to Australian students’ positive PISA literacy results. At times the results were ‘forgotten’. At other times campaigners drew attention to the inequality of literacy results for Australian students in international tests, and claimed that whole language teaching neglected struggling students. A third line of attack was to blame whole language for poor literacy skills among student teachers, an approach that re-established the idea that whole language is ‘a general force for bad in education’. In reality students’ unequal literacy levels in Australia reflect policy that has shifted funding from public to private schools, created ‘early stratification into schools of different types’, and entrenched pockets of social disadvantage. The attacks on whole language serve to obscure these issues and the problems of teacher recruitment and retention. Teachers and their professional associations should actively promote the real nature of the whole language teaching to the public. Educators should confront the ‘evidence-based’ rhetoric advanced for phonics-based approaches to literacy learning by citing the actual evidence of the PISA studies.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Elmore: it's about the instruction
16 August 2007
Harvard University Professor Richard Elmore, recently in Victoria to speak as Keynote at the principals' Big Day Out, has charged Victorian principals to accept accountability for improving educational practices in their schools. The Professor is a source of critical feedback for the Victorian Department of Education (DEECD) and for school leaders. Principals find his views ‘provocative’ because he presents whole-school transformation as every principal’s obligation rather than a choice. Principals must encourage teachers to redefine their roles so that school transformation becomes a collaborative process of peer review and accountability, where good teachers lead and poor teachers can receive feedback and support. Principals must support this transformation of practice through every facet of school administration, from building design and technology to professional development and collaboration. Professor Elmore cites the DEECD Building Futures project, the framework for redesigning schools in Broadmeadows and Bendigo, as an example of this trend. The renovated schools in this program feature open areas, flexible learning spaces facilitating team teaching, and specialised learning hubs and technology pods, all of which serve to break down traditional ‘egg crate’ school models which reinforce perceptions of classroom teaching as an isolated practice. Such projects can facilitate more collaborative and accountable teaching practices, but Professor Elmore warns that teaching will not improve unless teachers are committed to learning how to 'practise in each other’s sight'. Similarly, teachers must learn to become reflective practitioners engaging in continuous professional development. Schools that have already developed such a culture, such as St Arnaud Secondary School, notice that discussions between teachers have become more productive and focused on improvement. Professor Elmore is particularly interested in the capacity for technology to enhance learning when it is used effectively. He explains that the DEECD’s Ultranet, scheduled for initial deployment in 2008, will greatly improve learning and teaching in Victoria if teachers embrace its full capacity. The Ultranet will allow teachers to share lesson plans and research, film, audio materials and curriculum outlines throughout Victoria in a statewide collaborative network. Such technologies may assist principals in the work of managing schedules, external resources, community relationships and human resource organisation so as to effectively support teaching and learning.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Authoritative leadership, action learning and student accomplishment
2007; Pages 33–9
Much like parent–child relationships, teacher–student relationships can be characterised in terms of levels of responsiveness to needs and demandingness, or expectations of behavioural standards. Since the 1960s, responsiveness and demandingness in education have been falsely dichotomised. In a previous article, the author argued that ideal teacher-student relationships are characterised by high levels of both responsiveness and demandingness, and described this style of leadership as authoritative. Authoritative relationships are warm and supportive for children and informed by awareness of the child’s developmental level and needs. However, authoritative relationships also provide structure within a framework of consistent rules and expectations that are understood by the child. The present article applies this same model of authoritative leadership to educational leadership and school leaders’ professional development. A case study of 38 excellent schools in New South Wales found that schools whose leaders exercised authoritative leadership developed cultures of ‘action learning’ within professional learning communities. Authoritative leaders developed learning communities with high expectations, in which accountability to the group was more important than accountability to externally imposed measures. These high expectations were supported by a culture of individual and group social maintenance and supportiveness. The high responsiveness of leaders engendered an emphasis on personal relationships, and professional learning in this environment was therefore highly contextualised and individually relevant. A commensurate emphasis on personal construction of learning and on experimentation and innovation lead to highly effective learning communities in which enthusiasm for learning and improving became ‘contagious’. These effective teaching and learning communities make a conscious effort to de-prioritise administration and management and prioritise learning, improvement, and evolution of processes. Overall, effective learning communities combine external understanding, advice, assistance and recognition with a focus on internal issues, group learning, individual empowerment and internal accountability. Authoritative leaders develop strong and supportive relationships and model the qualities and behaviours they expect of others. The case study of effective schools attested to the value of authoritative leadership, demonstrating significant improvement in school and student performance indicators. However, these improvements are not ‘quick fixes’, and require intense commitment over six to seven years.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Inquiry based learning
Young children at risk of literacy difficulties: factors predicting recovery from risk following phonologically based intervention
Volume 30 Number 3, 2007; Pages 249–69
Although children who experience reading difficulties in early primary usually benefit from early intervention with phonics instruction, some children do not. A longitudinal study in the UK has attempted to identify commonalities between children who apparently fail to benefit from phonologically based intervention by comparing the achievement of groups of children who received different periods of phonics instruction from Prep to Year 2. A sample of 67 At Risk children and 68 control children were chosen from 11 schools in disadvantaged areas of the North West of England for the study. Children were classified as At Risk or Not At Risk after being tested in a diverse range of skills such as non-word reading, expressive vocabulary and spelling and phonics skills such as rhyme production, speech rate, and letter knowledge. At Risk children took part in an intervention program involving game-like activities and group interaction for 20 minutes a day over 15 weeks, before being reassessed in Term 3 of Year 1. Children who were still identified as ‘At Risk’ then participated in another 15 week phonics intervention on an individual basis. All children were reassessed in Term 3 of Year 2. The results suggest that about 30% of children identified as being At Risk of literacy difficulties will not respond to conventional phonics intervention. Vocabulary skills and letter knowledge appeared to be the main factors limiting children’s progress during intervention, and these measures were largely predictive of whether or not a child would respond to phonics training. Severe phonological deficits, rapid naming skills and primitive skills (bead threading) were also identified as related to unresponsiveness. The research clearly shows that early lack of letter knowledge restricts an at-risk child’s ability to engage with phonics training. Since low socioeconomic status (SES) has been linked to poor letter knowledge and vocabulary acquisition, low SES children are seriously disadvantaged in literacy. The UK National literacy Strategy has been successful in focusing primary education on a phonics program that benefits most children; however, this research shows that it is also critical to provide support for vocabulary acquisition, especially in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage.
Early childhood education
Greenfoot: using computer games to teach introductory programming
Volume 6 Number 3, August 2007; Page 20–3
The Greenfoot project provides computer games and simulations to facilitate the teaching of introductory computer programming in secondary schools. The Greenfoot programming environment was released in May 2006, drawing on the earlier BlueJ project. Greenfoot creates diverse simulation scenarios that can maintain secondary students’ engagement over the course of a lesson, while also keeping students focused on learning objectives. It also shields students from tasks and information too complex for them to manage. Greenfoot provides games based on familiar examples such as Space Invaders, and offers versions of popular microworld simulations. Programs are based on Java programming, widely used in universities and industry. Greenfoot material can be downloaded free of charge. Its creators are developing a public website called MyGame that will allow students to share and play computer games created by peers. Work has also commenced on tutorials, a textbook and other support materials for teachers. The drive to teach programming at secondary level results from the increasing presence of ICT in the education and general social environments, and from the current shortage of ICT workers.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Becoming whole language teachers and social justice agents: pre-service teachers inquire with sixth graders
Volume 3 Number 2, 2007; Pages 68–82
A new teacher education program in the USA seeks to influence teachers to adopt inquiry-based practice and social justice content in their teaching. Many pre-service teachers experience difficulties in translating social justice theory into pedagogical practice, as they are often unfamiliar with critical thinking skills and concepts of social justice themselves. The current project encourages pre-service teachers to refine these skills and directly relate them to teaching practice. The program applies principles of inquiry to its own structure, allowing pre-service teachers to construct their own ideas about the course content by requiring them to apply inquiry and social justice in a class setting. The program involves three weeks of professional seminars, followed by a practicum unit in which pre-service teachers lead social justice inquiry tasks for Grade 6 students. In these classes, student-teachers introduce strategies derived from the whole language approach to literacy, including brainstorming, text analysis, film response and inquiry. Student-teachers then encourage their classes to develop inquiry questions dealing with concepts such as race, stereotype and identity, which the students then research using a variety of sources. Pre-service teachers initially expressed scepticism to the program, and had difficulty accepting the idea of teaching as inherently political. They also expressed the belief that Grade 6 children were too young and immature to deal with complex social justice issues or to think critically. However, having observed the Grade 6 children’s positive responses to the inquiry approach, pre-service teachers became strong advocates of the program. They came to realise the legitimacy of curriculum that ‘moves beyond factual recall’ and significantly adjusted their beliefs about young students’ critical thinking capabilities. Student-teachers were surprised by their Grade 6 students’ insight into social justice and the sophistication of their research techniques. As pre-service teachers adjusted their perception of students, they also re-evaluated their approach to curriculum and recognised the importance of developing curricula to suit the needs and interests of individual students. However, participants in the program found that school-level resistance to inquiry-based models of teaching prevented them from incorporating the course principles into their subsequent teaching experiences. Teacher education programs must, therefore, also teach effective navigation of school bureaucracy in order to affect change within schools.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsSocial justice
Remodelling policy and practice: the challenge for staff working with children with special educational needs
Volume 59 Number 2, May 2007; Pages 147–60
All public schools in the UK are expected to have a designated special education needs coordinator (SENCO); however, interpretations of the scope of the SENCO’s portfolio differ widely between schools. Increasingly, SENCOs are being called upon to manage a staff of teaching assistants while maintaining their traditional role assisting SEN children. The revised Code of Practice for 2001 explicitly states that, because of the scope of their work, SENCOs should occupy positions in school management. Additionally, a 2004 Department for Education and Skills report recommended that school leaders reduce SENCOs’ administrative burden and allow them time away from the classroom. The present study examined the nature of the SENCO role in practice by drawing on data gathered from interviews with SENCOs at four primary schools and analysis of their self-observed schedules. Although the four case study schools were different in terms of size, system and community context, some common themes relating to SENCOs’ experiences were observable. All SENCOs reported that they were unable to allocate sufficient time to their role as SENCO as a result of other commitments within the school. One school allocated their SENCO, a full-time classroom teacher, only one morning per week for SEN responsibilities, which the SENCO reported was generally spent completing administrative tasks. Researchers also observed that there was no correlation between the number of SEN children in a school and the time allocated to the SENCO. The study also found that SEN was most effective in schools where the SENCO role was interpreted more broadly than in the Code of Practice. In these schools SENCOs were included in the school’s senior management team (SMT), and were therefore more able to coordinate SEN at a whole school level, delegating consultative and administrative roles to individual teachers. Since fewer than half of all SENCOs are members of their schools’ SMT, the study’s findings raise concerns about whether SEN is being adequately resourced. The study concluded that the role of the SENCO is complex and cannot be generalised, but that, in order to affect whole-school influence, SEN coordination must be strongly linked to management, and the roles and boundaries of teaching and non-teaching staff must be redefined.
Subject HeadingsInclusive education
Foreign languages planning: pupil choice and pupil voice
Volume 37 Number 1, March 2007; Pages 89–109
Although students’ choices in subject selection are frequently considered in the planning of foreign language programs, students’ views about language electives and subject progression opportunities are often neglected. The present paper argues for more formal consideration of students’ views and opinions in light of a British case study in which pupils voiced considered arguments for a change to the structure of language provision. The case study, a coeducational secondary state school, serves a multicultural, linguistically diverse community in London, and its language program is highly structured. In Year 7, students choose between French and Japanese, in Year 8 between French and German, and at Year 10 students choose to either continue with their chosen language or select another language from French, Japanese, German, Spanish and Gujerati. Students who do not wish to take a language at this level take part in a ‘language enrichment’ program covering Mandarin, Greek, Russian and sign language. Students at the case study school were asked to consider the school’s language program and then to comment on how language provision should be structured in the school, and which additional languages, if any, should be included in order to best serve the community. The students demonstrated significantly greater concern for notions of language equality than is evinced by school or state language curricula. They argued that all languages should be considered equal, and therefore that students should be able to choose from any of the languages ‘from the very beginning’. They contended that student choice would affect greater motivation in language study. Students at this school demonstrated thoughtfulness but also a degree of confusion about which languages would benefit their community, selecting the widely spoken language Urdu but also Japanese, which is not spoken to any significant degree in the school's community, and Latin. This confusion highlights the need for teachers to provide students with relevant background information and inform them of logistical constraints (eg teacher availability) when assigning students agency in subject planning. Despite this, it is hypothesised that increased student agency in curriculum decisions may bolster students’ intrinsic motivation to study languages and heighten languages’ perceived relevance.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
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