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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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The South Australian Learning to Learn initiative

Special report

Learning to Learn is an initiative of the South Australian Government that is changing the way teaching and learning are conceptualised and provided to the children and students in the State. Developed in three phases over the last six years, it covers a network of over 170 educational sites, from preschool to Year 12.

Learning to Learn has involved schools and their communities in a journey of renewal and reform based on critical reflection. The initiative was developed as a complement to SACSA, the State’s outcomes-based curriculum framework and, like SACSA, Learning to Learn rests on constructivist learning theory.

The major strands of Learning to Learn

The major strands of Learning to Learn have allowed professionals from participating sites to collaborate and share their learning, and have provided professional learning opportunities for all staff across the State.

  • The Core Learning Program sits at the heart of Learning to Learn and focuses on leading edge research into learning, curriculum and constructivist pedagogies. It is designed to be quite different from traditional ‘training and development’ models, and asks teachers and leaders to reconsider fundamentally their roles as educators. The structures and processes of the Core Learning Program foster informality, dialogue and individual challenge, encouraging participants to explore diverse and sometimes conflicting views of knowledge.
  • Teams of site leaders meet regularly in Learning Circles for Leaders to develop deeper understandings of the role of leaders in reculturing and restructuring learning for the future.
  • Practicums are three-day extended learning programs based at schools and other sites within the Learning to Learn network. The practicums are open to all South Australian teachers and leaders. Practicums have been held in 2000–2005, and more are planned for 2006.
  • Relationships are constructed between the Project Colleagues Network (a group of educational experts who both inspire and challenge) and Learning to Learn participants.  

The research base

In building a picture of the impact of Learning to Learn over the last five years, data has been collected from a wide variety of sources, including interviews and surveys of staff at schools and other educational sites. Telephone surveys and interviews were also carried out with a range of key groups, including the Australian Education Union (AEU), South Australian Secondary Principals Association (SASPA), South Australian Primary Principals Association (SAPPA) Preschool Directors’ Association, Council of Educational Associations of South Australia (CEASA) and the newly appointed District Directors.

Case studies of Learning to Learn sites were conducted by research partners based at the University of South Australia.

The research has also involved retrieval and analysis of centrally-held site database records 1999–2002: State test results, records of attendance and progression, and parent opinion surveys. Other research work has included analysis of existing Learning to Learn documentation and records, including feedback data from Practicums and Core Learning Program workshops, and transcripts from Learning Circles for Leaders and forums hosted by Learning to Learn.

Much of this material is available from the Learning to Learn website and in papers published from Learning to Learn evaluations and reviews. The unpublished papers are available from the Learning to Learn team.

Findings from Learning to Learn

Improving student engagement and wellbeing

Sites engaged in deep learning about constructivist learning theory and pedagogy have registered significant improvements in student engagement, retention, progression and attendance, as well as staff effectiveness and morale. Classrooms have become more socially inclusive and democratic through enhanced student-centred pedagogy. Students are developing higher order learning skills and taking considerably greater responsibility for their own learning. There has been an improvement in behaviour and classroom relationships, including student–teacher and student–student relationships. Students are demonstrating a greater sense of engagement and willingness to attend. 

Enhancing student achievement

Learning to Learn data demonstrates improvements in outcomes such as standardised tests and post compulsory certification. Nearly 90 per cent of survey respondents reported significant improvement in student outcomes. (Learning to Learn data collection, 1999–2003)

Learning to Learn sites are also registering success in developing learners’ metacognitive skills. The ‘new basics’ for the 21st century is where Learning to Learn sites have consistently reported real impact. For example, greater numbers of students are:

  • exercising choice responsibly
  • using meta-cognitive skills
  • taking responsibility for learning
  • experiencing easier transition between year levels and schools
  • accepting alternative viewpoints
  • working with greater persistence
  • expressing greater hope for a future with expanded opportunities
  • experiencing improved progression in site-based programs
  • able to articulate their learning
  • self-assessing their learning.

(Learning to Learn data collection, 1999–2003)

Revitalising teacher professionalism and pedagogy

The most commonly reported outcomes identified by Learning to Learn participants relate to the transformative power of the Core Learning Program and the subsequent reconceptualisation of their role from one of ‘teacher’ to ‘leader of learning’.

Le Cornu et al (2003) state that the significant outcomes consistently reported by teachers, leaders and students in Learning to Learn sites have demonstrated wide-ranging changes to ‘classroom practice, learning environments, learning relationships, learning conversations and learning tasks’.

In one on-line survey, 140 teachers and leaders reported changes to many aspects of school-wide and classroom-based practices. When focusing on their own attitudes and practices, marked improvements were reported in teaching method and teacher morale.

Survey results highlighted increasing self-esteem and confidence in teachers, increased attendance at professional development events, and a decrease in staff absenteeism.

Furthermore, teachers reported that they had become more open to questioning and uncertainty, more willing to seek critical discussion and debate and to question long-held beliefs, and that they were now better able to articulate learning theories and models. They also reported that teachers, students and parents have been working together more frequently, and that there is now a greater focus on research and observation of outcomes. (Learning to Learn data collection, 1999–2003). 

Building system-wide thinking

Learning to Learn has developed close connections with a range of State and national initiatives, and within the Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS) ‘systems thinking’ is now more in evidence. Developing ‘centres of learning’ is possible: the leadership, knowledge and resources which enhance deep and authentic learning are within schools and preschools, their communities, Central Office and the wider educational community.

We recognise that while no sites have dropped out of the program, not all participants have wholeheartedly engaged with Learning to Learn, and that for some it has been a frustrating process. Although success stories are numerous, some individuals and communities are yet to be convinced about the need for transformational change.

The next phase

Further development of Learning to Learn will involve building professional capacity in a new context, both in the field and at the centre; acting as a catalyst for curriculum innovation; influencing the system knowledge base; and building curriculum leadership density and capacity.

It is already clear that Learning to Learn has been successful in engaging students, and thus significantly improving their learning outcomes, by transforming whole-school culture and embracing a holistic approach to learning, based on constructivism and inclusivity.

 A more extended version of this report is available at http://www.learningtolearn.sa.edu.au/about/pages/default/findings



Department of Education and Children’s Services 1999–2003, Learning to Learn data collection (unpublished).

Department of Education and Children’s Services 2001, South Australian Curriculum, Standards and Accountability Framework, DECS, Adelaide.

Le Cornu, R Peters, J & Collins, J 2003, ‘Constructing relationships for learning’, NZARE/AARE Joint Conference, Auckland, December.


Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS) 2005, Assessing the Impact of Phases l and ll: Learning to Learn 1999–2004, Adelaide.

LeCornu, R and Peters, J, Managing the Challenges and Dilemmas of ‘Constructivism in Practice’, unpublished paper.

LeCornu, R and Peters, J 2004, Leaders in transition: living with paradoxes, British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester, 16–18 September

LeCornu, R Peters, J & Collins, J 2003, What are the Characteristics of Constructivist Learning Cultures? Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester, 16–18 September.

Le Cornu, R Peters, J & Collins, J 2003, Constructing relationships for learning, NZARE/AARE Joint Conference, Auckland, December.

LeCornu, R Peters, Foster, J  Barratt, R & Mellowship, D 2003, Exploring Perceptions of Significant Change in ‘Reforming Schools’, NZARE/AARE Joint Conference, Auckland, December.

Goldspink, C 2003, Learning To Learn: A foundation for School Engagement, Educational Management Administration and Leadership, Sage Publications.

Foster, M Shin, A LeCornu, R & Peters, J 2002, Blurring the Boundaries of Leadership: Insights from the Learning to Lean Project, unpublished paper.

Goldspink, C 2002, Rethinking Educational Reform – A Better Approach to Educational Improvement, unpublished paper.

Goldspink, C 2003, Rethinking Educational Reform – A loosely coupled and complex systems perspective, submitted for review, Educational Management Administration and Leadership, Sage Publications.

Publications other than Assessing the Impact are available on the Learning to Learn website.

Learning Outcomes and Curriculum Group
Learning to Learn
4th Floor Education Centre
31 Flinders Street Adelaide
SA 5000

Learning to Learn Project Assistant
T          +61 8 8226 4351

Robyn Barratt – Policy & Program Officer
T          +61 8 8226 2059

Jacqueline Stratfold – Project Officer
T          +61 8 8226 5612

Margot Foster – Manager
T          +61 8 8226 4318

Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
South Australia
School culture
Professional development
Learning ability
Educational planning
Educational evaluation