Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Five steps for school turnaround

By Ben Jensen - posted Tuesday, 25 February 2014

In 2005 more than two-thirds of Year 7 to 11 students at Sunshine College in Melbourne's western suburbs were reading at primary school levels. By 2012, however, Years 7 to 9 students were improving in literacy and numeracy at a faster rate than the state average. Student attitudes toward learning and their school were in the top 10 per cent of the state.

Sunshine is one of a number of schools across Australia that have dramatically turned around their performance. Formerly marked by poor learning outcomes and low expectations, a turnaround school is one that has transformed teaching and learning to give its students a great chance to succeed in work and life.

Grattan Institute's new report, "Turning around schools: it can be done", examines four schools picked from a number of success stories across the country. Usually in disadvantaged communities, turnaround schools break the cycle of intergenerational inequality.


Their stories are remarkably consistent. In Australia and around the world, turnaround schools follow the same path. They implement five steps: strong leadership that raises expectations; effective teaching with teachers learning from each other; development and measurement of student learning; a positive school culture; and engagement of parents and the community.

Schools make these changes in slightly different ways. Some ensure a common instructional is applied across classrooms. Others let each teacher apply the practices they consider most effective. But all focus on student learning and how it can be continually improved.

Nevertheless, change of this magnitude in a school is very difficult. Despite many government initiatives, school turnaround is relatively rare. Extra money has been given to schools and a multitude of programs have tried and failed.

If the steps for school turnaround are clear, why have so many government interventions failed? There is a great difference between simply highlighting the five steps for school turnaround and getting change in schools, between telling people what best practice is and getting school leaders, teachers and students to adopt it.

Policies that change what people do each day look very different from most other policies. First, a method is needed to commit all parties - in government and in schools - to reform. Change will never occur if people are not behind it. Government must lead the way in making a binding commitment to reform.

Leadership and teaching skills need to be developed in the five steps of school turnaround. Having teachers and leaders learning from each other is the best way for sustained change in teaching practices.


Different evaluation and accountability mechanisms are also required. School results are the ultimate measure of improvement but change in the five steps needs to be continually reinforced and this won't happen with a simple focus on test scores.

Instead, policy should also measure the amount of change occurring in schools in each of the five steps and hold school leaders to account for these changes.

This requires a different policy approach, one that is designed to change behaviours and practices in the five steps for school turnaround. Shanghai, which has the best and one of the more equitable education systems in the world according to the OECD, takes this approach. Its Empowered Management Program is increasing the number of the city's turnaround schools.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This article was first published in The Australian.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

3 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Ben Jensen is director of the school education program at the Grattan Institute.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 3 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy