Enacting standards-based national reform in Australia’s federal and multi-sectoral system: An analysis of the formative years of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers

Year: 2015

Author: Dabrowski, Anna, Savage, Glenn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores the enactment of standards-based national reform in Australia’s federal and multi-sectoral education system through an analysis of reform processes associated with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST).

The paper begins with an analysis of the formation of the APST, focusing on the role played by the Australian Institute for Teaching Standards and Leadership (AITSL) in leading the development of the standards since 2010. Particular attention is afforded to how AITSL has worked at the national level with an array of government and non-government stakeholders to mobilize support for the APST. Consideration is also given to the limits and challenges faced by AITSL in its attempts to influence policy change.

The paper then turns to an analysis of empirical data generated from 53 case studies conducted in schools and policy organisations across all Australian states, territories and sectors (public, independent and Catholic). Drawing upon policy implementation and enactment literature, as well as theories from political science and sociology about ‘policy learning’ and ‘policy sharing’, the paper focuses on the complexities faced by individuals and organisations in attempting to align with a national approach to teacher standards. In doing so, three themes are considered: 1. The powerful influence of state and sectoral policy histories and contexts in mediating the uptake of the APST; 2. The challenge of managing the diversity of ideas and practices that have emerged regarding the purpose and use of the Standards amongst key stakeholders; and 3. The impact of competing national policy agendas (including the Australian Curriculum and the National Assessment Program) on the enactment of the APST in schools.

In synthesizing these findings, the paper generates new theoretical and policy knowledge about the complexities of enacting standards-based national reform in Australia. In particular, the paper produces new insights about how networks of policy influence and policy learning operate in Australia’s federal system, in which states retain constitutional responsibility and in which government, Catholic and non-government school sectors maintain unique policy histories and architectures. The paper also generates broader insights about the nature of standards-based reform in education, by exploring inevitable tensions between ‘diversity and commonality’ that emerge when multiple individuals and organisations, located across multiple jurisdictions and sectors, seek to re-orient systems towards a shared national approach.