Pursuing equity in high poverty rural schools
An ARC Linkage project in partnership with the Queensland Department of Education (DET), the PETRA team worked with 8 schools in the Wide Bay over 3 years to develop an alternative mode of educational accountability to the dominant top-down, test-based mode. In working with schools, the school principals and a selection of teachers and students in the schools, and community leaders with input from community members, the project conceptualized a new form of rich accountabilities for education. The PETRA team worked with select groups of teachers and students to strengthen school community relationships through community-based research projects conducted by students, acknowledging the funds of knowledge in communities. The PETRA project also created a Learning Commission in the community that took submissions from all of these groups as part of a process towards this new conceptualisation.
The Learning Commission and school principals worked closely with the research team to synthesise professional and community views with research-based knowledge to develop this new conception of rich educational accountabilities. This conception added to the dominant top-down, test-based model, three elements:
1. A bottom-up vertical mode, whereby schools and their communities were given an opportunity to ‘speak back’ to the central department, outlining what they needed to be accountable to the demands made of them by the system;
2. A horizontal mode, whereby the school listened to the community about what it wanted from the schools and then they described how they might show they had achieved these expectations; and
3. The school articulated demands of the community in terms of what the community had to do to ensure the school could meet the expectations of them. In addition, as part of community consultation about the their expectations of schools, the PETRA project developed a prototype of a computer game, which potentially could be utilised by schools for their strategic planning in relation to these multiple modes of accountability. The research team is holding ongoing discussions with the Department about the possibility of developing this further.
The PETRA team met with the Director-General of Education and other senior officials to report back on the outcomes of the research. This included an outline of the rich mode of accountability developed through the research project. The Director-General disseminated the report to relevant sections of the Department. The Learning Commission Report was disseminated to the new School Improvement Unit and utilised in their rethinking of the role of the system in respect of school improvement and modes of accountability. The research insights were used to counter schools’ and principals’ perceptions of a ‘systemless system’. The outcomes of the research have been utilised in conceptualizing new systemic accountability arrangements in DET with both regions and schools. The Director-General indicated that the report would also be used in relation to the State Government’s strategy of enhancing schools’ relationships with parents and communities. The Director-General sought advice and briefing from the PETRA research team in relation to these matters.