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Victoria’s schools of the future

Kenneth Ross

CONTEXT

Victoria is an Australian state with a population of approximately 4.5 million people. In 1996/97, there were 1,700 government schools providing education for 5- to 18-year-olds. The majority of these were primary schools. Another 673 schools were in the non-government sector. Total enrolments were 777,368 students, 517,882 of whom were in government schools. Twenty-five per cent of all Victoria’s government schools cater to students from non-English speaking backgrounds, with a small proportion of students from an Aboriginal background.

The formal education system consists of primary schools from preparatory (P) grade to grade six (ages 5 to 12) and secondary schools from grades seven to twelve (ages 12 to 18). Most students (approximately three-quarters) complete thirteen years of schooling and attain the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE). The total number of government schoolteachers in 1996/97 reached 18,159 in primary and 16,902 in secondary schools.

School education is supervised by the ‘Office of Schools’, which is divided into nine regions for administrative purposes. The Office of Schools is located within the Department of Education1 and manages the government school system. Several administrative units, including the Office of School Review, in charge of accountability framework, and the Board of Studies, in charge of the curriculum framework, support it. The Office of Schools reports to the Secretary of Education (the public service head) who reports to the Minister of Education. The latter has ultimate responsibility for the school education portfolio.

1 At the inception of the ‘Schools of the Future’ Programme, the current Department of Education was referred to as the Directorate of School Education (DSE). Both DSE and DOE are used interchangeably in this chapter.

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT

Australia began decentralizing power and authority to schools nearly thirty years ago. In the 1960s, the education system was highly centralized; the states made all key decisions on curriculum, budget and personnel. From the mid-1970s, Victoria became one of the leading states in the move towards a fully decentralized system of education. Between 1980 and 1992, a number of initiatives were taken by successive governments to devolve authority and responsibility progressively to schools. These moves culminated in a policy paper entitled ‘Education: giving students a chance’, published in late 1992 by the Liberal Government. It outlined that quality education can best be achieved by transferring educational decision-making and resource management to the school level. A ‘Schools of the Future’ (SOF) Task Force was formed to develop a detailed report outlining the government’s objectives and how quality education would be delivered. The task force released the SOF Preliminary Paper in 1993, which revealed that the key to schools’ effectiveness would be a ‘school charter’. The ‘Schools of the Future’ Programme and other legislation has increased the powers and responsibilities of school councils and principals dramatically. Victoria’s principals have been placed on limited tenure contracts and local selection of staff was introduced.

The speed with which this reform was institutionalized warrants an explanation. In March 1993, the government asked for applications to place 100 of the state’s schools into a pilot programme. The programme aimed at providing ‘virtually full authority over the budget and personnel function to the school site’. Within a six-week period, over 700 schools applied, and in July 1993, more than 300 schools entered the first phase of the SOF programme. By early 1994 another 500 schools had entered the programme and an equal number in July 1994. By mid-1995, all Victoria’s schools were in the SOF programme. In an attempt to assist schools to understand their self-managing role, the Directorate of School Education published two information kits in 1994. To assist schools to formulate and implement procedures to achieve their respective visions, a Curriculum and Standards Framework was created. This is a framework within which schools are able to create their own programmes, whilst taking into consideration the identity, aspiration and interests of their teachers. The Board of Studies provided curriculum frameworks for all schools, while the Office of Schools Review developed charter guidelines and an accountability framework.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE VICTORIAN EXPERIENCE

Victoria’s model of school-based management (SBM) has two distinguishing dimensions: (a) the involvement of both internal and external constituencies, such as the principal and the representatives of the staff, parents, community and, in the case of secondary schools, students; and (b) the decentralization and devolution to the school level as against the district or the local education authority level, as is the case with other countries, such as in the United States of America or the United Kingdom. Victoria’s experience of SBM, through the SOF Programme, is thought to represent one of the most comprehensive strategies at school decentralization attempted anywhere in the world. It is the most sweeping move to decentralization in the history of Australian public education, with nearly 90% of recurrent expenditure distributed to schools within a global school budget. Victoria is the largest system of public education anywhere in the world to have decentralized such a large part of the state budget for school education. The stated objective of the reform was ‘[to improve] the quality of education for students by moving to schools the responsibility to make decisions, set priorities and control resources’. Accordingly, SOF is intended to ‘make more efficient use of resources for the benefit of students, provide a more professional workplace for teachers, and increase the level of community knowledge of, and satisfaction with, schools’. Basically, the reform has four elements, as shown in Figure 1.


FIGURE 1. The dimensions of schools of the future.

The curriculum framework: the process of decentralizing the curriculum made standards for student attainment explicit. The framework consists of two elements: the curriculum and standards framework (CSF) for years Prep to 10 (P-10) in eight key learning areas (KLA); and the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) for years 11 and 12.

The people framework: The career structures of principals and teachers were addressed in the people framework, consisting of five elements: (1) local selection of staff; (2) full staffing flexibility and workforce planning; (3) performance management for principals and teachers; (4) professional development; and (5) new career structures.

The resources framework: allocates 90% of the school’s recurrent budget directly to the schools; gives schools the flexibility to allocate all resources in accordance with student learning needs; and funds schools in a clear and equitable way through the school global budget.

The accountability framework has three elements: the school charter; the annual report; and the triennial review. ‘Quality Assurance in Victoria’s Schools’ is the main mechanism through which the performance of schools is monitored.

Each of these frameworks has several elements. Whilst most of the elements are in place, some are still to be fully implemented, such as full staffing flexibility in the people framework.

DIMENSIONS OF SOF’S REFORMS

The School Charter

As part of the Accountability Framework, the School Charter is the official document produced by the school and the school council in collaboration with the school community. It is considered the major accountability agreement between a school and its community for the achievements of its students, on the one hand, and the school and the Department of Education (DOE), on the other. Each school develops its own charter which outlines how the school intends to deliver quality education to its students using the resources available in its global budget (the resources allocated to it by the DOE).

Through the Charter, school communities have the opportunity to determine the future character, ethos and goals of the school. Figure 2 shows the process by which the School Charter is developed.


FIGURE 2. The process of charter development.

The document of the charter includes: the curriculum profile, codes of practice, students’ code of conduct, accountability, budget summary and an agreement to ensure that schools meet their objectives within the limits of available resources. In particular, the document gives:

· A description of the school’s philosophy and future directions.

· The school’s goals and priorities that are identified as requiring further development.

· How the school intends to deliver the eight mandated curriculum areas and any other special enrichment activities specific to that school.

· Codes of practice for school council members, principals and staff.

· A code of conduct and the discipline approach used for students of the school.

· Details of the processes used for monitoring and reporting on student performance.

· A prediction of student numbers and an indicative budget for the period of the charter.

· A statement that the school agrees to operate within the terms of the charter and to agree to take all reasonable steps to ensure the school meets its goals within the available resources.

The school charter sets the strategic directions for three years. It provides the basis for detailed action plans and allows for the identification of performance measures in meeting the goals and priorities, which relate to curriculum, school environment, management, resource allocation and monitoring performance. Each goal is accompanied by indicators, which enable the achievement of that goal to be measured. The priorities are based on planned and continuous improvement. This places demands on the school to analyse its performance and, using the results of this analysis, to generate priorities for improved student performance. Schools report annually to the DOE and their local community on their performance in achieving their goals and priorities. Every three years a review is conducted at the school, in conjunction with the Office of School Review, to assist with the development of a new charter.

The school charter model adopted in Victoria has a number of features that place it in the category of the world’s best practices. First, there is explicit detail concerning the areas identified for improvement and the goals that drive the school; it is not a document that focuses only on improvement, but includes details about the normal operation of the school. Secondly, it is student centred with explicit acknowledgement of the central importance of curriculum and improved student learning. Measurement of both goal and priority outcomes are prominent features. Thirdly, the school charters are firmly located within a broad accountability framework that includes school review and school annual reports. Fourthly, there is detailed specification of the roles of the school community members and a profile of the school. Most importantly, as an accountability instrument, the charter gives parents, via the school council, greater say in the conduct of the school, and increases the requirement to account for the enterprise to the government. The Office of School Review can demand that charters are rewritten, and the objectives not attained in one year are carried over to the next.

CURRICULUM AND STANDARD FRAMEWORK

A second important feature of the SOF programme is the Curriculum and Standard Framework (CSF). This is one of the elements of the curriculum framework noted above. The Board of Studies developed the CSF. There are eight key learning areas in the framework: arts; English; languages other than English; mathematics; sciences; technology, studies of society and the environment; and health and physical education. These guide the development of the curriculum from preparatory year through to year 10. The framework contains two components: (a) the curriculum content in several different levels to be attained over eleven years of study, across the various strands of activity within the key learning areas; and (b) the learning outcomes for students for each of those levels.

The CSF incorporates both content and process standards. Student progress is assessed against the CSF in a programme of state-wide assessment, the Learning Assessment Project (LAP). The LAP assesses students in years 3 and 5, in English and mathematics annually, and in one other key learning area on a five-year cycle. CSF is a teacher assessment of student performance based upon agreed performance levels contained within the CSF documents. In addition, the state has introduced one more test: a state-wide testing of student performance through the Victorian Secondary Assessment Monitor (VSAM) at years 7 and 9.

The introduction of explicit standards by means of the CSF set a yardstick for teachers and the community, and made public what had been the professional concern of individual teachers and staff. The LAP reports to the parents took the locus of information control on student progress out of the teachers’ hands. It gave parents ‘objective’ feedback on their children, gave the school feedback on their performance vis-is other schools, and gave the whole system information on overall attainment. In other words, in government schools, the LAP results became another instrument of accountability when added to school charters.

At the same time, the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), which is a two-year (years 11 and 12) school completion certificate, was revised and re-accredited. The VCE provides a wide variety of subjects for students to enable them to undertake studies for either university entrance and/or employment. It contains a series of Common Assessment Tasks (CATs) to be completed by all students undertaking a particular subject to ensure common achievement measures across the system. Some CATs are assessed at the school and others through external examination, but a state-wide moderation system is used to ensure parity for all students’ work. All students involved in the VCE are required to sit a General Achievement Test (GAT) to check on the distribution of student grades for school-based CATs within the certificate. Should the school’s VCE performance fall within the tolerance range of that school’s performance on the GAT, then the results for the VCE assessment will be confirmed. If not, the VCE results will be externally reviewed.


FIGURE 3. Systematic and local accountability framework.

SYSTEMATIC AND LOCAL ACCOUNTABILITY

The third feature of the ‘Schools of the Future’ Programme (SOF), which is part of the accountability framework, is the systematic and local accountability processes. These are presented in Figure 3. According to this system, the Board of Studies provides curriculum leadership and assistance to schools on a state-wide basis, while the Office of School Review supports the attempts of individual schools to raise the quality of their teaching and learning. The Board is responsible for course development and accreditation, course evaluation and assessment of student performance (including school completion and certification). The Office of School Review is responsible for the co-ordination and management of the accountability processes, particularly as they relate to the development and review of school charters.

As for local or school level accountability, the school councils have the authority to determine the educational policies of the school within the framework of the School Charter. The councils are responsible for maintaining the school premises and grounds, employing non-teaching staff and contracting the services of teachers for particular projects. They are accountable to their local communities, to whom they report through the annual report, and to the Department of Education (DOE), through which independent auditors ensure that the financial dealings of the school conform to the appropriate guidelines.2

2 Both the LAP and the GAT assessment noted earlier are also used as part of the accountability framework.

These elements of the accountability framework serve two main purposes: they satisfy the ‘legitimate expectations of government about accountability for the outcomes of schooling’, and assist ‘schools and teachers to improve standards of student learning’. The framework allows schools to monitor and report on their effectiveness and focus upon improving it. It provides an integrated planning, development and reporting package in which schools develop their own educational plans and priorities within government guidelines (through the school charter), and monitor the progress in meeting these objectives (through annual reports and a school self-assessment). The school’s self-assessment is externally monitored through the verification phase of the school review component of the framework. The school charter, annual reports, self-assessment and independent verification are public documents, which are available for community inspection at the school level. The DOE does not allow public access to the accountability documents from schools; this has to be accessed through the schools directly.

SCHOOL REVIEW

This is an element of the accountability framework. School review, as shown in Figure 4, is a triennial review based on self-assessment by the school and an independent external verification leading to the development of a new school charter. Community consultation is encouraged at all stages of the process with many schools utilising significant community input in the development of the school self-assessment, including community representation on the verification panel and community involvement in the final development of the new charter. There are three annual reports indicated. Most schools complete two annual reports, with the school self-assessment doubling as both the summary of achievement over three years and the third annual report.


FIGURE 4: School review.

SCHOOL SELF-ASSESSMENT

The school self-assessment forms the summary document of the performance of the school over the three-year span of the charter. It is this document that is used in the verification process. It is the school that constructs this document, albeit on the framework provided by the government. It is not until the verification process that external review of this data is conducted.

There are detailed guidelines as to how schools interpret data for self-assessment, as compared to the annual report. Schools are required to present and interpret the data, make judgements and recommendations. The recommendations are focused upon the school’s goals and priorities for the next charter. In constructing the self-assessment, schools are encouraged to involve their school community, although the extent of involvement varies. Some schools utilize consultants to help facilitate the process and/or the analysis.

VERIFICATION

An external verifier contracted by the DOE conducts the verification of the school self-assessment. The verification process has been constructed to be both affirming and challenging. It is affirming in that the work of the school and the progress made over the past three years is acknowledged and celebrated. It is challenging in that the process leads to the setting of new goals, priorities and improvements that may take place over the next three years. The verifier acts as a critical friend working with the school and taking a fresh look at the analysis of the school data to ensure that the school self-assessment is supported by the data presented, highlighting achievements, noting areas that can be improved or those that have been overlooked, and setting the planning and improvement agenda for the next three years.

The verification is conducted over one school day, with the verifier typically meeting with the principal, school council president, and one or more teachers. At the conclusion of the meeting the verifier prepares a report which is forwarded to the principal for consultation before the principal, school council president and verifier sign the document. A copy of the document is then sent to the central administration. The end result of the process is that there is a set of firm recommendations on the goals, priorities and improvement focuses to be included in the next charter. The school is in considerable control of the process through its writing of the school self-assessment and has wide representation on the verification panel, not to mention the school principal chairing the verification day.

GLOBAL BUDGETS

The resource framework represents a significant feature of the SOF. Through this framework, the reform has implemented a new basis for funding government schools in Victoria through a well-developed School Global Budget (SGB). The SGB is primarily a formula-based funding model, which consists of a base element for all schools, together with an equity element based on the characteristics of the students enrolled. Hence, individual schools would have the flexibility to allocate all resources in accordance with local needs. Each school receives an SGB, most of which is made on a per student funding basis to reflect the different resource requirements across a range of variables related to learning needs. It provides funding for all school-based costs, including staff salaries, operating expenses and school maintenance.

Schools received support in the introduction of local budgets through increased funding for administrative support and with a software package called ‘Computerized Administrative Systems Environment for Schools’ (CASES). This assisted the schools to monitor their financial, personnel and administrative functions. Devolving financial management to the local level aimed to empower principals and schools councils to set and allocate resources for local priorities, to separate the purchase of education from its provision, and to decrease the need for a central bureaucracy.

The SGB has its counterpart in other places where there is a high level of school-based budgeting. In every instance, the task of determining the basis for allocation has proved difficult for a range of reasons, including the absence of information about allocations in the past and debate about the relative weightings to be given to the different factors to reflect learning needs.

In 1994 (and again in 1995), an Education Committee was called by the then Minister of Education to advise him on a mechanism by which the DOE could allocate 90% of its state’s budget to schools. Most of the committee’s recommendations in 1994 and 1995 were implemented. These included a per capita core funding supplemented by needs-based allocations for students at educational risk, students with disabilities and impairments, rurality and isolation, students from non-English speaking backgrounds, and priority programmes. The principles underlining these recommendations were detailed as follows:

Pre-eminence of educational considerations. This principle implies that determining what factors ought to be included in the construction of the School Global Budget and what ought to be their relative weighting are pre-eminently educational considerations.

Fairness. This principle implies that schools with the same mix of learning needs should receive the same total of resources in the School Global Budget. In accordance with this principle, SGB should redress the unfair historical allocation of resources, which involved some schools receiving more resources and others receiving fewer resources, when they were otherwise comparable.

Transparency. This principle implies that educational validity and the fairness of the SGB will be apparent only to the extent that the basis for allocations in the SGB is transparent - that is, it is clear and readily understandable by all those concerned. The basis for the allocation of resources to each and every school should be made public.

Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is the principle that a decision should only be made centrally if it cannot be made locally. It describes the principle of maximizing funds available for school-based decision-making. An implication for the construction of the SGB is that the starting point is to consider included all items of expenditure related to the operation of school. A case must then be made to exclude an item from the SGB. Exclusion of items from the SGB may take place if - and only if: (a) schools do not have control over the expenditure for that item; (b) there is excessive variation in expenditure for the item at the school level from one year to the next; (c) there is unpredictability in expenditure for the item at the school level; (d) expenditure is of a once-off nature; or (e) the item is one for which the school acts simply as a payment conduit.

Accountability. Accountability is a necessary counterpart of the educational focus in the SGB, given that the latter is concerned with matching resources to learning needs. A school which receives resources because it has students with a certain mix of learning needs has the responsibility of providing pro-grammes to meet those needs, and should be accountable for the use of those resources, including outcomes in relation to learning needs.

Strategic implementation. When new funding arrangements are indicated, they should be implemented progressively over several years to eliminate dramatic changes in the funding levels of schools from one year to another.

When implemented in 1995, the SGB consisted of six elements, as follows:

Core funding (based on current staffing and grants formulae with additional funding for administrative support for small schools and early childhood years P-2. This amounted to 80% of the total budget).

1. Additional funding depending on the isolation and rurality (IAR) of schools (depending on the size of the school, and its isolation factor) so as to ensure adequate staffing and a range of curricula in these schools.

2. Additional funding for students from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

3. Additional funding for students with disabilities and impairments (DAI).

4. Additional funding for students at educational risk (SAER).

5. Additional funding for priority programmes such as: physical and sports education; science and technology; instrumental music; professional development; arts in Australia.

USE OF MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGY

Another important dimension of the SOF is its extensive use of technology and computerized information systems. At the administrative level, and as noted above, CASES was introduced to assist schools to monitor their financial, personnel and administrative functions. This allowed the schools to interface with the central computer system. Schools were issued a standardized computer hardware and software system. CASES stores and processes a range of data including student records (often from teacher input), and financial, physical and human resource data. To enhance the value of information recorded and maintained in CASES, another type of software was designed. This is the CASES Management Information System (CMIS), which is an ‘add-on’ software package to make better sense of CASES for management purposes. It provides a range of summary reports, often presented graphically, which have been developed in consultation with schools and central personnel. Both CASES and CMIS programmes have been developed in-house by the DOE.

To enhance the system by extending it to include student records, a third software application was introduced. This is a commercial product adapted to Victoria’s requirements. The product known as Kidmap provides student assessment and recording, analysis and profiling of student progress/needs, preparation of reports for parents, and access to teaching resources. It allows schools and school systems to access student data, and to analyze and interpret this in a variety of ways.

At the central office and regions, the DOE introduced an Education Management Information System (EMIS), which has some linkages to the CASES/CMIS environment. The basic system in EMIS is the Corporate Information System (CIS) which contains basic school profiles, a diary of events, a phone directory and a range of documents. EMIS also includes a decision support system (DSS) which contains the same databases as CIS, but with additional features. These features provide additional information to allow the construction of an individual school’s profile. They also allow the provision of a range of statistical information for downloading to a spreadsheet/word-processing package.

The interface between these information management systems is shown diagrammatically in Figure 5. The figure illustrates the main channels of communications and the users of these channels in the SOF management information system. For both the annual report and school review elements, the processes are informed by an extensive array of school and system generated data on student and school achievement. This very much facilitates the collection and analysis of data used in the operation of the accountability framework, and the day-to-day operations of the school.


FIGURE 5. Department of Education Management Information System: KIDMAP, CASES, CMIS and EMIS.

In terms of curriculum delivery, several curriculum programmes, which make an extensive use of technology, were also introduced. An Interactive Satellite Television (ISTV) programme was established in 1994. Both government and non-government schools installed satellite dishes to receive centrally produced programmes. Students could interact directly with the programmes’ presenters using either a fax or a telephone. Professional development programmes for teachers and general access for other community groups were also made available through this new technology. Other technological initiatives in the curriculum included programmes which gave all schools access to the Internet and opportunities to develop methods of using the new technologies; and brought people from education and the entertainment arena to work together to develop computer software that both educates and entertains.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT

As part of the people framework, the career structures of principals and teachers were addressed. This was ‘consistent with efforts to restructure the public sector’, where ‘there has been downsizing of central and regional agencies, with a small but powerful strategic core “steering” the system’. In this framework, staff selection was devolved to the local level and professional development was provided to build capacity in principals for their expanded roles, as well as to give teachers the skill to implement curriculum improvements. However, the school’s personnel for the most part remain centrally employed. At the same time, schools were given an increasing capacity to select staff and determine the mix of professional, paraprofessional and support arrangements.

All of the restructuring noted above required considerable commitment from the central office to provide professional development for all school personnel: principals, teachers and school councillors. At the time of their entry into the SOF programme, schools had an induction period of six months to ensure that they were ready for their new responsibilities. Professional development for principals included issues related to the global budget, leadership and management. Administrative staff were given training to improve their understanding of the new computer system and the global budgeting process, including the management of personnel. Teachers were given training in programmes related to curriculum leadership in response to school charters. School councillors were given training to help understand the process of charter development, and the implementation of the SOF programme.

At the central and regional level, special positions were created to deal with local concerns. These positions, known as the District Liaison Principals (DLP) were placed in regions across the state. Two positions were placed in the central office. The role of the DLP was to act as a change agent, providing advice and assistance to principals, assisting with professional development, and ensuring that schools have access to student services and curriculum support staff. In addition, a small number of support staff were located in each region.

Support for principals and teachers is an on-going activity. Areas of support include leadership training, mentoring and coaching, with experienced principals supporting junior ones. These have helped to establish the longer-term future of leadership in schools. The Professional Recognition Programme (PRP) offered teachers the capacity to opt into a system of enhanced pay and career structure, including annual appraisal. The main aims of the programme are:

· To provide a working environment that encourages and rewards skilled and dedicated teachers;

· To encourage the further development of an ethos that values excellence and high standards of achievement; and

· To provide formal feedback on a teacher’s performance so that appropriate career development may occur through professional development and other means.

To achieve these goals, the DOE allocated in 1995, the total of A$240 per teacher in each school for professional development. This meant that appraisal could support improvement and provide the basis for promotions based on merit rather than seniority. Local staff selection, appraisal and professional development gave the school greater control over their human resources and greater flexibility in responding to local needs.

AN EVALUATION OF SOF REFORM

The SOF reform has devolved considerable authority and responsibility to the school level. Important features of its success include:

· The framework presents an integrated programme that works at two levels: for school planning and development and for system accountability. It is this dual utility that has been the key to success. Schools value the framework for providing them with a valuable developmental tool. Inspection programmes, such as those used in the United Kingdom, do not offer the same degree of support to schools as that offered by the accountability framework.

· The framework has been supported by the development of a range of performance measures. Some have been developed especially for the framework (staff and parent opinion surveys), whilst others have been developed as part of other elements of the reform (e.g. CSF). Importantly, benchmarks of performance have been created which allow schools to assess their performance against those of both the state average and schools, which have a similar student population.

· The development of the performance measures has been supported by the development of software to facilitate the display and analysis of the data.

This process has provided schools with the tools to monitor performance, a quality assurance framework within which to operate, and a quality control process that meets systemic requirements. In essence, the accountability framework includes the benefits of a supervisor model of school supervision, with an explicit and extensive programme of support for school planning and development.

Appropriate levels of professional development have been used to support the framework implementation. Extensive consultation and trialling occurred in the development of the school charter, the annual report and the triennial review. The Office of School Review also consulted widely with experts throughout the world, and its personnel have been active in gaining experience of best practice. The independence of the Office of School Review from the schools section has enabled it to develop the accountability framework without the constraints that it might have been subject to had it been part of the bureaucratic structure of the Office of Schools.

At the early stages of SOF inception, the DSE published ‘The schools of the future information kit’ and ‘Schools of the future guidelines for developing a schools charter’ to assist all schools in their transition to SBM. The documents reinforced the trend for principals to be recognized as true leaders of their schools and to be expected to build and lead their teaching teams by clarifying important responsibilities which are determined at the school level. The unique character of each school and community is reflected in distinctive curricula selected from a broad range of studies established by Victoria’s Board of Studies. So as to achieve the overall aim of providing quality education for every student, enabling each to realize his/her full potential, different approaches to learning and teaching are encouraged to optimize the advantages gained from technological progress. The school charter, developed within the guidelines of the DSE/DOE, encapsulates the school’s vision and establishes a framework for the allocation of resources. The crucial element for the success of the school would seem to be its ability to respond to the needs of the community and to provide a service which sustains an on-going demand for places within the school, as well as a boost to the employment potential of its graduates.

However, there remain considerable constraints on schools. For example, the leadership role of a principal of a SOF is a demanding one. The tasks carry onerous responsibilities, both ‘upwards’ to the DOE and the Minister of Education, as well as ‘outwards’ through the members of the School Council to staff, students, parents and the community.

Moreover, there is evidence of increased teacher workload and time demands, concern over the level of resources, increased reliance on local fund-raising, including the collection of fees, teacher disempowerment and a decrease in school diversity. There is also frustration at the inability of parts of the reform to be fully implemented, especially the promise of school control over staffing and the implementation of the principal performance management plan.

Concern has been expressed that reforms to bring about the decentralization of authority in the current education system are cost-cutting measures, rather than a means of improving school effectiveness. As a matter of fact, this phenomenon of cutting-costs and reducing staff has been a feature of most SBM reforms worldwide.

On the other hand, the new arrangements of decision-making and the increased community involvement give a clear impression that education is a partnership between the staff and the parents. However, much of this seems to have been undermined in favour of more power being given to the principal.