Managing our education

The recent Commission of Enquiry on the Alexandra School has provided some insight into the management of one of our public schools and our wider public education system. Whilst the personal aspect of the dispute has provided headline grabbing attention, the bigger issue at stake must surely be the effectiveness of our public education system.

We invest some $400 million every year in public education and for good reason, it provides the bedrock for our social and economic development. After the public enquiry on the Alexandra School, one cannot help thinking that there may be a better way of managing the important matter of our national education.

Perhaps an experience of the Ontario province in Canada may be a useful reference in this regard. In 2003 the graduation rate of its students had fallen to 68 per cent and the government committed to a clear mandate to transform the performance of the education system. After seven years the graduation rate improved to 82 per cent with other benefits such as fewer teachers leaving the profession.

The strategy consisted of assertive goals and high expectations from the government, combined with a commitment to partner with the education sector in order to develop capacity and ownership in the service of student achievement. Seven key factors were attributed to this success:

* Relentless and focused leadership at the centre (in this case the Ontario government).

* A small number of ambitious goals, specifically higher levels of literacy and numeracy and improved high-school graduation rates.

* A positive stance towards the schools, districts and teachers.

* A core strategy of capacity building to improve the quality of instruction.

* Transparency of results and use of data for improvement purposes.

* A non-punitive approach to accountability.

* Learning from implementation, by disseminating best practice both vertically and across schools and districts.

* Fostering leadership at all levels to drive and support items 1-7.

Could we, and should we, develop a mandate for our national educational system that we can improve our student performance to the levels we require to meet the challenges of our new global community?

— Chris de Caires

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