More Collaboration is Needed to Counter the Damage by School Autonomy

School autonomy is a threat to the spread of best practice teaching and learning between schools according to a submission to the Senate inquiry on teaching and learning by Save Our Schools (SOS). National convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said school autonomy creates incentives not to share good practice which need to be countered by promoting more collaboration between schools.

“Sharing knowledge within systems is critical for school improvement, but knowledge about good education practice is sticky under school autonomy. It tends to stay where it is and not spread.

“This is one of the major costs of school autonomy not acknowledged by Australian governments in extending school autonomy. More autonomy encourages schools to see themselves as isolated silos rather than as part of a system working together for school improvement. Autonomous schools have a strong incentive to keep knowledge to themselves rather than share it, especially with the publication of school results and league tables.

“Recent evidence from England and New Zealand shows that school autonomy has undermined collaboration and the spread of best practice in teaching and learning as schools compete with each other for market position.

“There have been calls in both countries for government support for more collaboration to overcome incentives against the spread of knowledge.

“The head of research at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, Dr. Cathy Wylie, says that the lack of connections between schools under school autonomy makes it difficult to harness and use all the knowledge and actions needed to keep developing the quality of New Zealand education. She recommends fundamental changes to the system to build greater collaboration with a return to more central and regional support for schools.

“Increasing collaboration between schools is also a key recommendation of the recent Academies Commission report in England. It said that many academies – the English version of independent public schools – were targeting their energies at competition rather than collaboration. The Commission called for a more systematic approach by government and education authorities to support collaboration between schools.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the incentives against sharing successful education practices is one reason why school autonomy has very little to no impact on student achievement as shown by a comprehensive review of research studies contained in the SOS submission to the Senate inquiry.

“The most recent research evidence on the success of school autonomy in budgeting and staffing in improving student achievement is far from compelling. Some studies show positive effects, but the mass of evidence from several countries including New Zealand, England, Sweden and the United States is that it has little or no impact on student achievement.

“OECD research has found that in the vast majority of countries participating in PISA 2009, including in Australia, there was no significant difference between student achievement in schools with a high degree of autonomy in hiring teachers and over the school budget and in schools with lower autonomy.

“The recent review of academy schools in England concluded that they are not a ‘panacea’ for school improvement and that ‘greater independence and freedom are not sufficient in themselves to secure improvement’.”

Mr. Cobbold said that Australian governments should support greater collaboration and networks between schools to counter the incentives created by school autonomy to restrict the spread of knowledge about good teaching and learning practices.

“We need more collaboration, not less.

“Australian governments are increasing school autonomy in the expectation, against the weight of research evidence, that it will increase student achievement. The very real danger is that by restricting the spread of knowledge it may worsen results. As the deputy director of education at the OECD, Andreas Schleicher, has pointed out, school systems that have higher school autonomy without a culture of collaboration tend to have lower overall results.

“Save Our Schools recommends that the Federal Government negotiate a new partnership agreement with state and territory governments to provide funding support for more collaboration between schools to share best practice in teaching and learning. The National Partnership on Empowering Local Schools should be complemented by a National Partnership on Supporting Collaboration between Schools.”

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