A study of action plans for school improvement in the Northern Territory government schools
: rhetoric and realities of devolution

  • Victoria Burnard Stokes

    Student thesis: Other thesis - CDU


    This study examined the development and implementation of Action
    Plans for School Improvement in Northern Territory Government
    schools in 1990 and 1991 . The purpose of the study was to
    determine whether formal statements of school planning addressed
    broad Departmental policy guidelines, and whether the realities
    of implementation of school plans were aligned with their formal
    statements. The economic, political and professional factors
    that have affected Northern Territory (NT) Government schools
    since self-government in 1978 are outlined, leading up to the
    effects of compulsory devolution of many administrative
    functions to school communities in 1991, during the first year
    of implementation of Action Plans.

    The main aim of the study was to determine whether improved
    educational outcomes were the basis for implementing Action
    Plans in NT schools. Other aspects examined included: the nature
    of changes prompted by Action Plans; the effects of Action Plans
    and devolution on the functions of Principals; whether Action
    Plans helped schools address calls for public accountability;
    and whether performance indicators (called for in Action .
    Plan policy documents) had been used effectively by schools in the in the
    Action Planning process.

    The first stage of the study examined Executive Summaries of
    Action Plans for School Improvement (APSI) for 118 NT Government
    " schools, for the first year (1991) of a rolling triennium.
    Initial Plans (completed in 1990) and their first annual reports
    (from 1991) were available for 81 schools, first annual reports
    only from the other schools . Quantitative data were extracted
    from the Summaries on: focus areas for school improvement;
    performance indicators; and evaluation processes. The data were
    then examined for commonalities across all schools, and schools
    aggregated by region or school type.

    The second part of the study involved a qualitative approach,
    with 15 Principals responding to a set of questions related to
    Action Plans, Devolution, Performance Indicators, and Accountability.
    The data from the interviews were analysed, using
    ethnographically derived procedures to develop a typology of
    Principals, based on the nature of their responses to the Action
    planning process . The data were further analysed, seeking
    information relating to educational or administrative emphases
    in the Principals' responses.

    The main findings of the study were:
    • APSI had a significant educational component overall,
    though this varied widely from school to school . However
    the emphasis was on planning and implementation of
    programs, not their evaluation. Hence it was not possible
    to conclude that improved educational outcomes for students
    provided the basis of APSI in NT schools.

    • There had been an increase in Principals' workloads as a
    result of devolution , and some Principals saw that increase
    as being to the detriment of their function as educational
    leaders in their schools . Other Principals had responded
    enthusiastically to the changes brought about through
    devolution and APSI, seeing them as opportunities for
    improved educational programs for their studens . A
    majority of Principals had assumed a realistic attitude to
    policy changes, meeting administrative requirements but not
    necessarily fully encompassing such concepts as community
    ownership and collaborative planning. Several Principal had resisted
    both the philosophy and actuality of APSI, though still meeting the
    minimum bureaucratic reporting requirements.

    • There was little evidence of schools ' addressing calls for
    public accountability through APSI. The very limited da t a
    on evaluations in the APSI Summaries indicates that this a
    critical area for policy review . Data from interviews wit h
    Principals indicated broad support for the concept of
    accountability, but their understandings of the concept
    related to reporting to students and parents, not to any
    wider audiences.

    • School personnel have very limited understandings of the
    construction or use of performance indicators . though
    Principals would use them to improve educational program.
    if they knew how.

    • Devolution, as introduced in NT Government school s. has a
    policy rhetoric of educational improvement, but it was seen
    by Principals and others in school communities as being
    almost entirely for administrative purposes.
    Date of Award1992
    Original languageEnglish

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