School improvement driven by culture and collaboration

Monday, 27 Aug 2012

When responsibility for professional development and school improvement lies with schools and school leaders, the building block of the school system is no longer a free-standing school but a cluster of schools in partnership, according to a UK academic.

Cambridge University academic Professor David Hargreaves explained to delegates to the annual ACER Research Conference how such clusters are pursuing school improvement in England.

The 17th annual ACER Research Conference addressed the theme 'School Improvement: What does the research tell us about effective strategies?' and featured four keynote addresses and 17 concurrent sessions. A number of these sessions addressed the importance of a shared learning culture and collaborative approaches to school improvement.

'For many schools the task of establishing and maintaining deep partnerships and strategic alliances with other schools is proving to be a major challenge,' Professor Hargreaves said.

'Some of the prerequisites of a self-improving school system are being established, but other features of the education service are inhibiting this project,' he said.

Professor Hargreaves said the shift of responsibility for professional development and school improvement is a profound change for the teaching profession, for local education authorities, for inspection systems and for university schools of education and research centres.

The role of strong school–community engagement in school improvement and the way such engagement benefits students and teachers and the wider community was discussed in a session co-presented by Dr Michele Lonsdale, Ms Sharon Clerke and Dr Michelle Anderson from ACER. Together, they presented research evidence and practical tips for developing strong and productive school–community partnerships that ultimately support better outcomes for students.

One such example of successful collaboration, presented by Professor Brian Caldwell and Dr Tanya Vaughan from Educational Transformations, is the powerful impact of an arts program on student wellbeing and on achievement in other areas of the curriculum – including a gain in achievement in reading of approximately one year. Professor Caldwell and Dr Vaughan also identified the social and economic consequences of sidelining the arts.

Also at the conference, Mr Brian Giles-Browne from Principals Australia Institute ‘Dare to Lead’ and Ms Gina Milgate from ACER shared parent and carer community voices in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education in school communities.

The ACER Research Conference 2012, on the theme 'School Improvement: What does the research tell us about effective strategies?' was held in Sydney from 26 to 28 August. 

Further information:
Full conference papers for each of the speakers are available from <>