Reframing Continuous School Improvement in Australian Schools

Reframing Continuous School Improvement in Australian Schools

Venesser Fernandes (Monash University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9970-0.ch006
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There is a significant lack of documented research on Australian school improvement contextualised within business improvement model settings. This is the case, even though Australian schools have been operating within a business environment for a while now. This chapter aims at addressing this gap by discussing educational quality within schools. It will also present an adapted version for continuous school improvement within school systems in Australia. This adapted version of continuous school improvement provides a theoretical framework on how schools operating as self-managed business systems can ensure that the delivery of educational quality is strategically sustained at the organisational level and that focus remains on the important core business of student learning.
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Introduction: The Kaleidoscopic Landscape Of Continuous School Improvement

Making any more mistakes in the “How to” of delivering a quality education will be disastrous to us as a nation, we cannot afford to delay having a world-class education system that builds a stronger future and a fairer Australia that can face the challenges of a globally competitive world (Commonwealth Of Australia, 2008, p. 34).

For decades there has been a concerted effort at the international and national level to improve educational quality as part of both international and national educational reform agendas. However defining and coming to an understanding of what educational quality is, has been an ambiguous and difficult journey. There is in fact no universal agreement on its definition, its processes, its methods for measurement, and the complexity of many simultaneously interacting relevant variables that would need to be analysed. This ambiguity in itself provides credence to the fact that educational quality is not a universally defined phenomenon but something that has to be understood at its point of action albeit having a universally accepted notional framework of understanding that nations strive to achieve. As seen over the years, some of the problems endemic to studies of educational effectiveness have been attributed to a lack of empirical evidence, a lack of longitudinal studies modelling change, the issue of data analysis methods, problems in the choice of measures for the outcomes, the issue of sample size, and statistical adjustments (Hill, Rowe, Holmes-Smith & Russell, 1996).

In a rapidly changing environment of social and economic globalisation, education is identified as a primary centrepiece and a requisite for fulfilling many individual, familial and national aspirations (Adams et al., 2012, p. 6). Hill, Rowe, Holmes-Smith and Russell (1996) suggest that, “The provision of schooling is one of the most massive and ubiquitous undertakings of the modern state. Schools account for a substantial proportion of public and private expenditure and are universally regarded as vital instruments of social and economic policy aimed at promoting individual fulfilment, social progress and national prosperity” (p. 1). In this environment, understandings around educational quality have become very much complex and comprehensive.

Schools are open systems where people work together to achieve a common purpose. As open systems, schools are always interacting with their environments and therefore structure themselves to deal with forces within these environments. Betts (1992) suggests that, “The improvement of quality involves the design of an educational system that not only optimises the relationship among the elements but also between the educational system and its environment. In general, this means designing a system that is more open, organic, pluralistic, and complex” (p.40). Adams et al. (2012, p. 2) suggest that there are three major implications that should be considered in improvement efforts across education policy, planning and practice which include: (a) increased centrality of education in national development policy and planning; (b) increased focus and priority on decentralisation and localisation with further empowerment of teachers and administrators; and, (c) the trend towards an emphasis on, and assessment of education quality at all levels. Brooks and Normore (2010) further suggest that “a more glocalised (a meaningful integration of local and global forces) approach to education by the discrete agency of educational leaders is imperative” (p. 52) in being able to develop a deeper understanding of educational quality. As they suggest, “the implications of glocalisation are profound, and the consequences of not understanding the way that the local and global are interconnected will increase over time” (p. 73). Torres and Antikainen (2003) similarly identify that “the presence of globalisation makes the study of education even more complex. Traditional preoccupation with the intersection of classes, race, gender, and the state become magnified with the dialectics of the global and the local” (p. 5).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Quality Enhancement: Refers to the improvement of educational quality brought about through cycles of continuous improvement and innovation so that it becomes the culture of the educational organisation.

Quality Assurance: Refers to the policies, processes and actions through which the quality of a system is developed and maintained.

Total Quality Management: Refers to a systematic approach to the practice of management within an organisation. At the organisational level it requires changes in organisational processes, and strategic priorities; and at the individual level, it requires changes in the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours of individuals working within that organisation. It is considered both as a philosophy and a set of guiding principles for organisational management.

Strategic TQM: It provides schools with a substantial philosophy, tools and processes to organise themselves to meet and sustain change and improve themselves continuously.

Continuous Improvement: Refers to a long-term approach towards improvement that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in the organisational processes that lead towards improvements in efficiency and quality. It is also known as Kaizen and is the responsibility of every person in the organisation, not just a selected few.

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