The efficacy of school leadership: why we expect too much
Number 170, November 2007
The leadership role of principals is widely praised, but in Britain and Australia a number of factors hold back the exercise of this leadership. Many aspects of educational policy and planning have been effectively removed from school to government level, often through the release of new policy initiatives. Accountability mechanisms do not give principals much scope to adapt them to local conditions. They also discourage principals from distributing their excessive responsibilities to other staff, because within the school only the principal is accountable to the government for school performance. Principals are also constrained by the fact that politicians and the media appeal directly to parents on many issues. In Australia schools must manage a growing burden of statutory and legislative requirements governing issues such as health and safety and risk management, as well as specific operational requirements attached to school funding. Australian educators also face national reporting requirements on mandated testing. A range of other very significant factors challenge the role of school leaders. There have been ‘declines in investment in State education over the past 30 years’, while Independent school leaders must manage sensitive issues such as funding and accusations of elitism. In both sectors principals must compete for high quality staff, and to do so must expend considerable effort to create ‘workplaces of choice’. Schools now carry the burden of many community roles previously shared with families, local neighbourhoods and churches. Principals are also expected to liaise more closely with non-educational social service agencies. Principals must now not only ensure social inclusion but also ensure recognition and respect for diverse cultures, which is increasingly important with large numbers of economic immigrants invited to fill skills shortfalls, refugees and international education students. Several initial steps are needed to address these problems. Schools need to be redesigned to accommodate their increasingly diverse intake, their growing community role and the current move to personalised learning. Schools need to hire quality staff well suited to the school ethos. School leaders need to identify and groom potential leaders among early career staff. Finally, accountability measures should cover social as well as academic achievement.
Autumn 2008; Pages 13–14
A contextualised approach to the learning of science ‘asks students to look at their world and the science within it’ as a way to learn and apply major scientific concepts. Research findings have strongly supported contextualised learning in science, but a number of obstacles have prevented its widespread implementation. Contextualisation demands substantial knowledge of the context to be studied, including the scientific concepts involved, and their relationship to each other and to other relevant scientific concepts. Contextualisation also requires a grasp of the links between this contextual information and existing knowledge. Teaching within a contextualised approach to learning requires substantial work from the teachers as they have to restructure the sequence and 'packaging' of the science courses with which teachers are familiar. This work must come at the expense of other demands on their teaching time. Contextualisation is likely to require trial and error when put into practice. Contextualisation also calls for high level coordination to build the required concepts, processes and skills across year levels. Failures at any stage of these demanding processes may discourage teaching staff and lead to the reintroduction of familiar approaches. To deal with these obstacles education systems and education publishers should draw on the experiences of successful examples of contextualisation such as those provided through Salters Science and local Primary Connections initiatives. Efforts to overcome these obstacles will also need to recognise the particular local conditions including the backgrounds of staff and students.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Neighbourhood science stories: bridging science standards and urban students' lives
Volume 18 Number 4, December 2007; Pages 357–367
There is an increasing trend in education to link curriculum content to the life experiences of students outside school. A class of disadvantaged Grade 5 students at an urban school in the
Key Learning AreasScience
United States of America (USA)
What is science?
Autumn 2008; Pages 21–22
The Science talk website has recently been launched by the New South Wales Department of Education’s Centre for Learning Innovation. Designed to give science teachers and students an idea of the scope of modern science practice, the website profiles twelve researchers in a range of careers including medical research, engineering, journalism and university teaching. The website was launched for Science Week 2007 and incorporates video interviews with each of the twelve scientists on a variety of topics, including forensic science, dinosaurs, drug testing in sport, global warming, ‘quirkology’ and plant science. Scientists discuss their work, their sources of inspiration and how their science relates to the broader community. Students also have the opportunity to visit these scientists’ laboratories and to attend master classes given in schools on related topics. The site is designed so that teachers can easily use its content in their classes, with segments of video, focus questions for discussion, and a ‘teaching notes’ section that relates the material to the New South Wales syllabus. In a small survey aimed at gauging the site’s effectiveness, over 90 per cent of participating teachers believed that Science talk could inspire students to study science. Most of the survey respondents used the site to learn more about different scientific fields, and the majority had used the site to show students different careers in science. All of those who had used the website with students felt that they had found the video material exciting and engaging.
Key Learning AreasScience
'You should read this book!'
March 2008; Pages 73–75
It is often a challenge for teachers to persuade disadvantaged children to read books. One teacher at a disadvantaged urban primary school in the
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Essential qualities of math teaching remain unknown
Volume 27 Number 31, 2 April 2008; Pages 1–15
Good maths teachers have a noticeable impact on student achievement, with one study in the USA finding differences in teaching quality to be responsible for 12–14 per cent of variation in students’ primary school grades. It is, however, still unclear exactly what qualities or credentials make a good maths teacher. Research has not been able to conclusively link teaching quality to professional qualifications, university maths coursework or pre-service and professional development programs. A recent report has called for more research into the topic. The report suggests that future research examine the impact of developing teachers’ ‘mathematical knowledge for teaching’, their detailed knowledge of content and ways to make this comprehensible to students. A prominent education researcher has proposed the implementation of certification tests that measure teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching. Student teachers majoring in maths should also be given coursework that relates specifically to working with students, rather than only learning advanced mathematics. The same lack of research applies to quality science teaching. The Institute of Education Services (IES) has suggested research on the effects of employing specialist maths teachers in primary schools. Research into having primary school maths taught by specialists rather than general primary teachers has yielded mixed results in China, Singapore and Sweden; however, this strategy may be a practical way to address the widespread problem of primary teachers’ lack of solid mathematical skills.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
United States of America (USA)
Employing formative assessment in the classroom
Volume 10 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 249–260
Teaching and learning
Transcending the zone of learning disability: learning in contexts for everyday life
Volume 23 Number 1, February 2008; Pages 63–73
Recent research in Spain has looked in depth at a learning-disabled student and her special education teacher as they made the transition from a traditional curriculum to context-based learning. The new curriculum material draws on sociocultural learning theory, which sees disability as located not in the individual student but in ongoing patterns of cultural interactions. In traditional special education curricula, students tend to be automatically positioned as less capable simply by virtue of their participation. The tasks they are given reflect this view. When students are made active partners in meaningful tasks they often perform at a much higher level. The student in this study was a 13-year-old girl named Maria who had been diagnosed as mentally retarded. New aspects of the curriculum aimed to involve her in tasks that were relevant to her everyday life, such as writing shopping lists or comparing TV timetables to work out what she wanted to watch. The main task on this occasion was to plan and buy supplies for a class storybook that was to be shared with other children and their parents. Maria had the responsibility of telephoning stationery shops to ask for prices, something that she had never done before. She also planned the budget of the storybook, balancing the dual concerns of spending too much of the class money and not having enough materials. In this way, she was made an active and important participant in the class project and was able to feel competent and valued. Her interactions with the teacher became more egalitarian and confident as they both focused on the task at hand, rather than being concerned with Maria’s answers to questions and whether or not they were correct. These results suggest that learning based on real-life tasks may offer significant benefits for children with learning disabilities. Collaboration between the classroom teacher and the special education teacher is also critical, so that special education tasks can be usefully integrated into the work being done by the rest of the class.
Subject HeadingsSpecial education
Student science teachers' conceptions of sustainable development: an empirical study of three postgraduate training cohorts
Volume 25 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 307–327
A key educational issue for the twenty-first century is education for sustainable development (ESD). Future science teachers will play a key role in ESD, and will require suitable teacher education programs. To gauge teaching students’ prior knowledge about sustainable development, a questionnaire was given to three cohorts of postgraduate students of science teaching at
Key Learning AreasScience
Studies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsSustainable development
Parent voice: knowledge, values and viewpoint
Volume 10 Number 3, November 2007; Pages 220–232
The importance of engaging parents in their children’s education is widely recognised. However, much research into parent involvement has revealed tensions and struggles for control between parents and teachers, with parents’ views often discounted by educators as uninformed and self-interested. To look in more detail at the voices of parents in education, interviews with 44 British parents were conducted. Their children were undertaking a Pathfinder vocational education program involving weekly hands-on training in a craft or trade. The group consisted of 32 female and 12 male parents, most of Caucasian backgrounds. The students, in Years 10 and 11, had generally been selected for the vocational program because of a history of relatively low academic achievement. Seven of the children were classified as having special needs. The vast majority of parent comments were positive and mentioned gains in confidence and self-esteem since their children had started the program. They also had well-articulated opinions about course structure and content, and their responses were broad rather than self-interested, including references to other students, the educational system as a whole, and the economy. While comments were generally positive, they were not entirely uncritical, with several comments on the lack of in-depth understanding and theory in some courses. Parents often stated that the program had made their children happier and more eager to go to school. This strong theme of happiness in parent responses contrasts with the emphasis on achievement that tends to characterise educational policy, and illustrates the value of including parents’ perspectives in ongoing educational discourse.
Subject HeadingsParent and child
Vocational education and training
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