Media release 29 October 2006 – New Research Says School Closures Lower Student Results

Save Our Schools says that new research published in the UK last week shows that the majority of school closures lead to a decline in student results.

SOS spokesperson, Trevor Cobbold, said that the research calls into question the whole rationale of the Stanhope Government’s school closure and amalgamation plan.

“Far from improving the quality of education as the Minister claims, his school closure and amalgamation plan is more likely to result in lower student achievement. Towards 2020 is destined for failure because it has ignored the most basic requirements for successful school consolidation.

“A study by the Hay Group, a major international consultancy firm, shows that 55% of merged schools in the UK had a sustained decline in student performance in the three years after the merger compared to the average for the separate schools in the three years beforehand. It says that the number of merged schools that have lower student results ‘is worryingly high.’

“A major finding of the study is that if the social and cultural difficulties of school mergers are not managed effectively, mergers are likely to have a negative impact on student achievement.

“It says that poor planning of school mergers can have a disastrous effect on thousands of students.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the study’s findings have important implications for the Towards 2020 Plan.

“The study demonstrates that school consolidation is a complex process and success depends on successfully combining school visions and culture. It is not merely a matter of logistics and infrastructure as the Minister for Education seems to believe.

“Schools need long lead times and considerable planning and resources to ensure successful consolidation, particularly on the scale proposed under Towards 2020.

“For example, the UK study says that it is essential that a new principal, and preferably the majority of the senior leadership team of a merged school, is appointed long before the formal merger takes place so that they have the space to form as a team, develop their vision and begin the communication process with staff, parents and students.

“The appointment of new leadership teams well ahead of the merger is fundamental to overcoming resistance and resentments, differences in school visions and cultures and to developing an inclusive change process.

“The Minister for Education has failed to implement these basic requirements. Towards 2020 involves many formal amalgamations and the de facto takeover of many schools by others. The consolidated schools will operate with much the same leadership teams and without sufficient time or resources for planning and implementing a new vision and change process involving staff, students and parents.

“Some 27 pre-schools and schools are proposed for closure or amalgamation at the end of this year. It is not possible for successful change to be planned and implemented over such a short period, let alone during school holidays. As one P&C President told the ABC Stateline program on Friday, ‘the Government is breaking all the rules of change management’.

“This is a failure of Government planning on a large scale and represents gross Ministerial incompetence, already a common enough feature of Towards 2020. The UK study suggests that students are likely to suffer serious consequences as a result of these failures.”

Mr. Cobbold said that while SOS considers that the Stanhope Government has failed to justify its school closure plan on either financial or educational grounds, any school mergers that go ahead should be given a chance of success.

“It would be appalling if the Minister’s neglect of planning for change led to lower student results. At the very least, the Government should allow for a longer transition period than the school holidays and commit considerable additional resources to providing specialist management change advice and support before proceeding with any school closures or amalgamations.”

Note:
The Hay Group’s findings are based on a detailed study of 73 full-scale school mergers across the UK over the past six years, involving more than 200 primary and secondary schools in a broad range of socio-economic areas. The mergers involved the closure of schools and their consolidation on an existing or new site. The study was published on 23 October 2006 and is available on the Hay Group website: http://www.haygroup.com/uk/Research/

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