School clusters proposed to ease weight on principals

Teacher with students in classroom. | Newsreel
Raising the bar - schools urged to cluster to lift standards | iStock

Public policy think tank The Grattan Institute has called for trials of school clustering in Australia to improve student outcomes and better support school leaders.

The institute’s report Spreading success: Why Australia should trial multi-school organisations says that trials in England and New York City demonstrate the value of this type of structure.

Multi-school organisations (MSOs) are “families of between 10 and 100 schools” with a mandate to maintain high standards and be accountable for them.

In a statement, the Grattan Institute said too many children were treading water in schools that struggled to lift academic performance, meet the complexity of student needs or offer deep enough life experiences.

“Running highly effective schools is difficult,” it said. “Governments have underestimated how much support principals and teachers need and have not yet found the best way to provide that support.

“Principals are straining under the weight of expectations, and teachers frequently find themselves in workplaces that lack the resources and know-how to provide the training and career development essential for a strong profession.

“On their own, most schools are too small to marshal the experienced leadership, specialist expertise and operational nous needed to provide an excellent education.”

The report says that MSOs typically operate through a united executive leadership that is accountable for student results.

Grattan Institute case studies of successful MSOs in England and New York City showed that effective MSOs increased the odds of school improvement.

“Each has a clear blueprint for running an effective school and the authority to enact this blueprint across multiple schools,” the report says.

“This includes turning around schools that have under-performed for decades, as well as helping already good schools become great.”

The institute recommended that each Australian school sector should trial MSOs, with state and territory governments and large Catholic dioceses establishing multiple trials.

“Each trial should start with a high-performing ‘beacon’ school, and gradually build to a family of 10 schools within a decade, with further growth possible after that,” it said.

The report can be found at The Grattan Institute