School Improvement and Governance Network

Four Key Areas

3.1 School-family-community partnerships

What is it?

The school, family, and community are the three contexts in which students live, learn and develop. With resources and support, schools link up the knowledge and skills that students acquire at home, at school and in the community. Students’ personal everyday experiences, ideas and insights and formal school instruction are combined to engender deeper student learning, knowledge and understanding. Schools, families and the community share responsibility for this personalised learning, health and development of all students. These partnerships, including shared school-family-community goals such as deep learning, improve learning outcomes and life opportunities for all students.

A community is a group of people with a particular common interest (e.g., the school community) or a geographically or culturally connected group of people. Associated with the shift to an on-line world are personalised communities.

What can I do?

Create a volunteer position for a parent to be a community partnerships coordinator. Nominate yourself. See the Great Schools Checklist - Part 7: Partnerships and community - for practical questions about partnerships.

Some schools form a family-school-community partnerships team (involving parents, teachers, school leaders and students) to plan for, and improve, partnerships over time. You may want to do this or propose a partnerships discussion on your school council or parent group. Help write or review your school's partnerships policy. Link it to personalised learning. See our parents and families as partners with schools checklist for good ideas.

See our discussion about the following three steps schools use to build and sustain community partnerships:

  1. Consider which partners
  2. Build trust and ownership
  3. Develop a practical plan.

Useful links and reading

  • Education Partnerships Resource
  • Powerful Partnerships
  • Fostering School, Family and Community Involvement (Adelman and Taylor, 2007)
  • Parental engagement, Alma Harris
  • Public involvement in public education, Alberta School Boards Association
  • Eight ways to build collaborative teams
  • Differences between groups and teams
  • Harvard Family Research Project
  • Parenting Research Centre
  • Emerging Issues in School, Family and Community Connections
  • Families as Partners in Learning
  • Family-Schools & Community Partnerships Bureau
  • Family-school partnerships framework: a guide
  • From My School to Our School
  • Measuring Your Family-School-Community Partnerships - a tool
  • School-Community Partnerships in Australian Schools
  • Essential Complementarities, David Clarke
  • Community Matters draft 2012 - MindMatters
  • Local government It takes a Village to Raise a Child report
  • School Partnerships with Families and Community Groups
  • Country Education Project - a leader of P-12 clusters
  • Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs)
  • Community Manifesto: Valuing Australia's Community Groups
  • Preparing 21st Century Learners: The Case for School-Community Collaborations
  • Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0, NEA
  • Children's role in home-school relationships and the role of digital technologies, Lyndsay Grant

Examples of great practice

Among the best examples that we have seen are school forums (hosted by an independent facilitator) in which school leaders, teachers, parents, students and community members are involved in developing school values or the school's strategic plan or exploring key questions such as:

  • What are the challenges schools are facing?
  • What can be done to further build the school-family-community partnership?
  • How are teachers, parents, students and community members combining the knowledge and skills that are acquired in the three different worlds of home, school and community?
  • What does learning of the future and what does schooling of the future look and sound like?
  • What is a great school, and what might we do to further improve our school?

Partnerships consist of people with different yet complementary knowledge or skills. They create something together that could not have been developed by any one alone. Great examples include:

  • The knowledge and insights of parents complementing those of teachers, and vice versa
  • An educator with an academic focus complementing another with an applied learning focus
  • Primary and secondary school teachers complementing each other by sharing their expertise and developing across a cluster of primary and secondary schools a P-12 approach to schooling.

3.2 Systemic change

What is it?

Systemic change is all about change in one 'part' requiring changes in other 'parts' in order for change to be effective and to improve learning outcomes for students. This means joining up initiatives:

  • Within a school community (such as a strategy that links curriculum development, changes in assessment, professional learning, and the use of new technologies, and which brings together people with different yet complementary knowledge or skills)
  • Among the parts of education (such as a cluster of primary and secondary schools working together to develop a P-12 schooling model or a school or several schools building a learning community involving a TAFE college, university or kindergarten)
  • Between a school (or cluster of schools) and the wider community, including parents, health agencies, workplaces, businesses, community organisations and groups such as sporting clubs. 

Backed up by resources and support, it is through knowledge-sharing (broad mixes of school community members with different yet complementary knowledge and skills) and by building the many different kinds of professional teams and school-family-community partnerships that systemic change evolves. Systemic change, in turn, is the basis of big gains in school and school cluster performance.

What can I do?

See the Great Schools Checklist - Part 8: Joined-up change - for practical questions. Ask yourself: as a teacher, parent or student, what leadership role can I play or what specific partnership can I help build or strengthen to promote systemic change? On your school council or a policy sub-committee or your leadership team, schedule a discussion about what needs to change at your school. Compile and discuss a list of the practical initiatives that need to be joined up to achieve change.  

Useful links and reading

  • Systemic change in schools
  • What is P-16 education?
  • Leading Transformational Change in a Changing World, Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn
  • P-12 education partnerships - discussion paper
  • FutureMinds: Transforming America’s School Systems
  • MindMatters whole school approach
  • The Systemic Change Process in Education, Roberto Joseph and Charles M. Reigeluth
  • School System Transformation
  • Framing urban school challenges, RTI Action Network
  • Systemic Change for School Improvement
  • Systemic Change: Rethinking the Purpose of School
  • Educational Transformations
  • Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs)
  • Creating a self-improving school system (David H Hargreaves)
  • Revolutionizing School Reform for Educational Transformation (John B. Keller and Charles M. Reigeluth)

Examples of great practice

In developing a systemic approach to change, schools mention the importance of conversations - involving teachers, parents, students and community members - about the big questions such as:

  • What are our school’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are our core values for developing a better school?
  • What do we want to change and how are these changes linked?
  • What team do we need to build and who should be involved?
  • What new skills and resources will we need?

School council members and school community leaders may then develop a framework and map for what changes are to be made. This builds on all the good things that the school is already doing. A school's existing partnership work that is the basis of systemic change includes:

  • Working closely with families and building home-school links
  • Working closely with health services and local workplaces
  • Sharing good practice in P-12 clusters and regional networks
  • Developing primary-secondary links via middle years work
  • Partnerships with kindergartens and universities and colleges
  • Sharing resources such as sport and performing arts facilities.

A school council may make a commitment to systemic change through developing a partnerships policy and establishing an action team.

3.3 School performance

What is it?

Information from many sources is important in understanding a school’s performance. Teachers use data to personalise learning and to monitor how effective they are in supporting every student to progress; school leadership teams use data to evaluate the success of improvement strategies; and school councils use data to ensure that school plans are meeting the needs of their community.

What can I do?

As a teacher or parent, do you have good access to rich, really useful data? Always reflect on how well your school is meeting the community's expectations. Support stronger partnerships between teachers and families. Is there a budget for this? Ensure that school council meetings and reports are data-rich. And see the Great Schools Checklist - Part 9: Performance - for some more practical questions.

Useful links and reading

  • School self-evaluation and review
  • Reporting and Comparing School Performances
  • School performance in Australia: results from analyses of school effectiveness: report for the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • Victorian Government School Performance Summary
  • A Relational Model of How High-Performance Work Systems Work
  • Intelligent Accountability
  • Designing Performance Management Systems for Total Quality Implementation
  • League Tables Create Incentives for Schools to Rig Their Results

Examples of great practice

Among the best practices are schools that really engage their school community. These schools consider what activities has worked well before, the resources available to the school for consultation and involvement, and the geographic spread and diversity of the community. Initiatives include:

  • Community forums to discuss the school’s performance and its directions
  • Small group discussions with parents/guardians about performance data
  • Working groups involving teachers and parents to look at what may improve performance.

School performance obviously does not occur in a vacuum. The same applies to teachers in the classroom. If we put good performers in bad systems, the systems will win every time. Schools emphasise that the quality of the work of a teacher is linked to broader system factors such as:

  • Access to technology and technical support  and state-of-the-art educational facilities
  • Formative assessment to highlight and address students' personalised learning
  • Students' access to excellent health care and out-of-school enrichment opportunities
  • School community autonomy in modifying the curriculum to meet local needs
  • A cluster of primary and secondary schools developing joined-up P-12 schooling
  • Strong support for collegiality, real team teaching and school-wide collaboration
  • Resources and support for professional learning and families as partners in learning.

The absence of any one of these factors makes it more difficult for teachers to fully use their knowledge and skills in the interests of all students. School performance consists of both person and system influences - with system factors increasing in importance. There is also likely to be a shift from a focus on the performance of any one school to the performance of a cluster of schools working with each other and with pre-school and post-secondary partners to create learning and development systems.