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Focusing on school improvement while living with COVID
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Focusing on school improvement while living with COVID

ACER news 5 minute read

Over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have become better at sharpening their focus on strategies for improvement, says ACER’s Director of School and System Improvement.

In the latest episode of Teacher magazine’s  School Improvement podcast series, ACER’s Professor Pauline Taylor-Guy states, two-years into the pandemic, we are seeing a sharper focus on the part of schools and systems on their improvement agenda.

‘I really think that schools have got better at sharpening their focus over the period of the pandemic,’ Professor Taylor-Guy said.

‘I think historically there's been a tendency to try and focus on everything in a strategic plan … this is what Michael Fullan talks about, about ‘fat plans’. You know, schools have these fat plans that are packed full of all these different things. Well we know that what's more effective is to have skinny plans where you focus just on a few priorities.’

According to Professor Taylor-Guy, student wellbeing is now more than ever recognised as a key factor in education in a post-COVID or living-with-COVID world.

‘Wellbeing has really come into sharp relief over COVID, but it was actually already there,’ Professor Taylor-Guy said.

‘Wellbeing has always been in the National School Improvement Tool and therefore in the evidence, the importance of wellbeing has always been there and the relationship between wellbeing and engagement and academic outcomes. But, more recently, there's been additional empirical research conducted into that relationship – the strong relationship between wellbeing and engagement, and academic achievement,’ Professor Taylor-Guy said.

One such piece of research is a systematic review of evidence around the impact of wellbeing interventions on student outcomes, conducted by ACER for Evidence for Learning and VicHealth. The review quantifies the positive impact that wellbeing interventions have on not only student wellbeing outcomes but also student academic achievement, with students in the interventions up to four months ahead in their learning, compared to their control group peers.

ACER is also working with the Queensland Department of Education to develop elaborations of the National School Improvement Tool as they relate to student wellbeing and engagement. As Professor Taylor-Guy explains, these elaborations are a resource to help guide good practice in schools. They take a deeper dive into the evidence around wellbeing that sits within the National School Improvement Tool to really articulate those into impactful practices for schools.

With the impact of COVID-19 in schools currently limiting teacher availability, Professor Taylor-Guy says it is important to hone in on those few strategic things that are going to have the most impact and embed them in the DNA of the school, ‘so they're not considered to be something additional or extra they're actually just things that teachers are doing as part of their day-to-day practice’.

‘We have a lovely metaphor that comes from the literature, which is to say, you know, school improvement has been characterised as a kitchen sink approach where you throw everything in and hope that if you swill it around something will come out of it. Or a scattergun approach, where you just try everything and hope that something sticks and has an impact.

‘And what we really trying to work towards is that really sharp laser-like focus of the things that are really going to make a difference.’

The full 22-minute interview with Professor Taylor-Guy is available on Apple, SoundCloud and Spotify, or you can read a transcript on the Teacher website. ■

ACER can support schools and systems to effectively use the National School Improvement Tool and other school and system improvement tools, including through targeted and tailored professional learning. Learn more about our practical frameworks for the complex nature of school and system improvement.

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