Explicit improvement agenda

An explicit improvement agenda


An explicit improvement agenda has core objectives and timings that are clearly stated and shared by the school’s governing body, the principal and executive, teachers and parents. It is underpinned by contemporary research in teaching and learning and is established collaboratively right across the school community.

Explicit improvement agenda

NSW School Examples

  The Deputy Principal of Batemans Bay Public School on the NSW South Coast, describes how the school leadership drove their explicit whole school improvement agenda to upskill teachers so they could change their teaching to best address the needs of students. The school chose to invest time and resources in selecting the most effective tools to address the learning needs of students. 
  This video from the National Smarter Schools website about Punchbowl Public School in Sydney, illustrates how the collection and analysis of student performance data has informed a whole school improvement agenda for literacy and has allowed individual student learning needs to be effectively addressed. 
  A video of a Catholic Schools Office Curriculum Leader, working with MacKillop Catholic College, Warnervale, describes the challenges and benefits of conducting a thorough data-driven analysis of school and student data to inform a whole-school reform agenda

This video of Head of Primary from MacKillop Catholic College, Warnervale, describes the processes and benefits to teacher and student learning resulting from the vital role as instructional leader across the school
    The Head of the Junior School at Mountain View Adventist College discusses her role as instructional leader in bringing about Stage-based teaching plans.
    This Powerpoint from Fairfield High School describes the whole-school strategies in place to plan and undertake change and to up-skill all staff.
    This PowerPoint from Maroubra Bay Public School illustrates some of the dramatic changes in student performance which have resulted from an expert teaching team implementing an explicit whole-school reform agenda, with their efforts guided by reflection on student data.
  • An explicit improvement agenda - in detail


    A shared commitment

    An effective process of school improvement is driven by an agreed and explicit whole school reform or improvement agenda, led effectively by the principal and executive team. Clearly stated whole school priorities provide the impetus and focus for members of the school community and provide an ongoing sense of satisfaction when objectives are achieved. Collaboration ensures that commitment and ownership are built with classroom teachers, parents and other members of the school community.


    What does an explicit improvement agenda look like?

    Research undertaken by Geoff Masters on behalf of the Australian Council for Educational Research (2010:2) suggests that the reform agenda is working well if the following factors are demonstrated:

    • the principal and other school leaders have developed and are driving an explicit and detailed local school improvement agenda
    • the agenda is couched in terms of specific improvements sought in student performances, is aligned with national or system-wide improvement priorities and includes clear targets with accompanying timelines which are rigorously actioned
    • the school improvement agenda has been effective in focusing, and to some extent narrowing and sharpening, the whole school’s attention on core learning priorities
    • there is a strong and optimistic commitment by all staff to the school improvement strategy and a clear belief that further improvement is possible
    • teachers take responsibility for the changes in their practice required to achieve school targets and are using data on a regular basis to monitor the effectiveness of their own efforts to meet those targets.

    It is imperative that key tangible measures and timings are identified by schools to demonstrate progress along the journey of school improvement. Not only does this provide the opportunity for celebration of milestones achieved but also provides the opportunity for ongoing monitoring of progress.


    Effective leadership towards a renewed school culture

    In effectively leading school improvement, the principal must be highly focused on the key features that are designed to enhance student learning outcomes. Deep understanding of the background and ability of students, their current and past levels of achievement and key local factors impacting on the school environment all go to informing a view of the culture of the school and how it is to be changed.

    Zbar et al (2010) undertook extensive research in Victoria, identifying the importance of schools having strong leadership, accompanied by a clear vision for the school's future and direction and longer term leadership stability over time. This was described as “strong leadership that is shared”.

    The successful Victorian schools were led by principals who were committed to making a difference with students, who are passionate about leadership, and who were willing to build and distribute leadership density throughout the whole school, in accordance with teachers’ leadership aspirations. Principals were highly focused on the development of leadership teams and supporting those teams to ensure that they focused their activities systematically with an agreed vision and shared view of the future.


    Supporting the process of change through instructional leadership

    Systematic change and long-term sustainable improvement requires the commitment and confidence of all classroom practitioners, who need the skills to confidently implement change. Classroom teachers and the broader school community need to fully understand that enhanced student learning outcomes can only be achieved with accompanying changes and improvements in classroom pedagogy.

    Hattie suggests that “instructional leadership” has great power in terms of its effects on student learning outcomes (Hattie, 2009:83):

    It is school leaders who promote challenging goals, and then establish safe environments for teachers to critique, question, and support the teachers to reach these goals together that have most effect on student outcomes. School leaders who focus on student achievement and instructional strategies are the most effective. It is the leaders who place more attention on teaching and focused achievement domains who have the higher effects.

    Robinson (2007), quoted in Whalan (2012) highlights three key responsibilities in relation to “pedagogical leadership”. These include:

    • participating and supporting quality teaching,
    • establishing and communicating school goals for student learning
    • internal program coherence for sustainable improvement.

    Whalan (2012:176) makes the following important point about collective responsibility for student learning as a pivotal element for school reform:

    A leader’s willingness to devolve their decision-making power, to give teachers greater control over their teaching and the organisation of their work, was also recognised in the case studies as a condition contributing to the development of teachers’ collective responsibility for student learning. Teachers were empowered when they were encouraged to take control over the results of their teaching and were able to make decisions about how resources were allocated towards such reforms.


    Erebus International (2012). Evaluation of the take-up and sustainability of new literacy and numeracy practices in NSW schools – Final Report for Phase 1, undertaken on behalf of the NSW Minister for Education

    Erebus International (2013). Evaluation of the take-up and sustainability of new literacy and numeracy practices in NSW schools – Final Report for Phase 2, undertaken on behalf of the NSW Minister for Education

    Hattie, J.  (2009). Visible Learning: a synthesis of over 800 Meta- Analyses relating to Achievement. London: Routledge

    Masters, G. (2010). Teaching and Learning School Improvement Framework. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

    Robinson, V. (2007). The Impact of Leadership on Student outcomes: Making Sense of the Evidence. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

    Whalan, F. (2012). Collective Responsibility: Redefining what falls between the cracks for school reform.  Amsterdam: Sense Publishers

Whole school factors

A whole-school approach of commitment and shared responsibility from all members of the school community, including parents, drives sustainable change in student outcomes.


Classroom/teacher factors

Student learning improves when tailored intervention programs align with whole class explicit teaching strategies and an agreed whole school agenda.

Teachers engage most effectively with intervention programs which are underpinned by a sound research base and evidence of student improvement.

Teachers can focus on student improvement when their teaching and learning decisions are based on contemporary evidence based research.


See also

NSW DEC School Planning Policy

Comprehensive School Reform Program, Center for Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) Reform and Improvement – A US based website that contains research and evaluation studies, resources for schools and more.

Read a paper by the South West Regional Laboratory on Strategies for whole school reform

Read a paper by Nancy L Waldron and James Mcleskey on Establishing a Collaborative School Culture Through Comprehensive School Reform

Read about Leadership Learning and explore other professional learning and leadership development resources produced by the DEC, available online and through the intranet.

Browse this Powerpoint presentation on The Role of Instructional Leadership, produced by the South Australian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

Read a research report by David Gur et.al. on Instructional Leadership in Three Australian Schools.

Explore resources around instructional leadership produced by e-Lead, a Washington-based organisation.

Explore resources around building learning communities, produced by e-Lead, a Washington-based organisation.