Increasingly the Australian educational environment in which schools find themselves is one where schools are expected to achieve successes for their students and furthermore allow their successes or lack thereof to be compared with ‘transparency’ against the successes of other schools. The overriding principle expected from the politicians and society in general is one of providing parents with the best information possible on which they will be able to base their decision as to which school will be the best for their children. This notion is noble and honourable, one at which little criticism can be levelled. However, as researchers in the ‘Effective Schools’ and ‘Improving Schools’ research fields have discussed for decades, measuring the effectiveness of schools is not an easily achievable goal. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of using simplistic and narrow measures that supposedly allow easy comparisons.
This study takes the view, as does most research to date, that univariable measures of school effectiveness are fatally flawed. The current trend in many western nations to simply compare the academic success of schools, however that might be measured, does little to measure the effectiveness of schools. What is most concerning is the growing trend of creating league tables of comparison and in some educational systems to use such tables to determine school funding.
Equally disturbing is the amount of research that seeks to examine what students consider important in an effective school. There is a great deal of research on what characteristics parents, teachers, politicians and other key stakeholders consider an effective school to have but extraordinarily there is comparably very little research on what students consider important.
This study seeks to somewhat address this inadequacy by measuring what students in their senior years of schooling in a single independent school in New South Wales, Australia perceive to be appropriate and useful measures of effective schooling. In so doing this research also examined if in the students’ minds their current school is effective and most significantly examines why students hold the views they have concerning effective schools.
In order to achieve this aim, this study took a qualitative research approach to discover Student Perceptions of Effective Schooling. The theoretical orientation adopted was to both verify current theory of effective schooling as well as suggest possible developments, modifications and improvements to current theory in light of the students’ perceptions. As such both inductive and deductive analysis of the data took place. The data was collected using a range of methods from traditionally quantitative research tools, such as surveys, through to the qualitative research tool of focus groups.
The results of this study demonstrated that while the current research has developed a good multivariable approach to measuring school effectiveness there were significant areas the students believed needed greater or lesser emphasis. The importance of technically good teachers, separate from the need for good and caring teachers, as well as the need for schools to be safe places were all important measures of effective schools. The ability of the school to engage students outside the classroom and provide a relevant and diverse academic curriculum was also considered essential for effective schooling.