Understanding School Improvement in Queensland: Preliminary Findings

School improvement to increase students’ learning outcomes has become a key topic of interest for both governments and researchers. School improvement is complex and context-specific; yet little is known about how school improvement mechanisms operate in particular contexts. School improvement has been described “as a journey” (Hallinger & Heck, 2011, p. 2) or as a “process” (p. 3) involving a school(s) changing “over time” (p. 5) — that intended change is generally taken to be students’ “learning outcomes” (pp. 1, 15) having increased. This presentation introduces a research project that was co-developed by academics (QUT) and Departmental researchers (School Improvement Unit, Queensland Department of Education) to better understand school improvement in Queensland schools. The study takes a realist theory building approach. Realists seek to understand “what works, for whom, in which circumstances, and how?” (Pawson & Tilley, 1997, p. 85). Using a realist approach draws attention to the chains of contexts such as school size and location, mechanisms such as understandings of school review and school cultural norms, and outcomes that are related to school improvement within Queensland. The methodology includes secondary data analysis of existing data for Queensland primary schools, along with mixed method case studies in two schools that have recently undergone a school review process. This presentation outlines the methodology and preliminary outcomes of this unique project that offers academic and departmental researchers the opportunity to work together to better understand contexts, mechanisms and outcomes chains in Queensland schools. Working together to analyse data and develop a theory for school improvement, this research aims to inform future school improvement processes and strategies by identifying the links between context, mechanisms and outcomes that operate in this complex context.


Hallinger, P., & Heck. R. H. (2011). Exploring the journey of school improvement: Classifying and analysing patterns of change in school improvement process and learning outcomes. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 22(1), 1-27. doi: 10.1080/0-9243453.2010.536322

Pawson, R., & Tilley, N. (1997). Realistic evaluation. London: SAGE.