Creating future-focused schools: Leading within and working around the system

Year: 2019

Author: Theobald, Katy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

By the time a five year old leaves school the world will be dramatically different, demanding knowledge and skills that many schools are not set up to provide. This challenge is internationally recognised (Care, Kim, Vista, & Anderson, 2018; OECD, 2015) and many countries, including Australia, have begun to respond by integrating capability development into their educational frameworks.

Socioeconomic gaps in attainment already pose a systemic challenge, but young children from lower income homes also have less developed noncognitive skills such as self-regulation (Economic Policy Institute, 2015; Lleras, 2008; Pearce et al., 2016). For many educators, developing student’s noncognitive skills, their broader capabilities and learner agency, is a matter of social justice, since these are the capabilities that will empower them to change their trajectories.

Most research in this area focuses on the pedagogical and curriculum changes required for future-focused schooling (schooling which effectively and holistically prepares students for their futures). Less emphasis is placed on the leadership of the innovation required to create future-focused schools and how system factors facilitate or inhibit it. This paper presents findings from research into future-focused school leadership, investigating how systems facilitate or inhibit the school-level innovation required to deliver a future-focused education.

The research was conducted with policy makers, development providers and school leaders in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia, all of which have system strategies for 21st century schooling, and contrasted with England where no such strategy exists. Interviews with school leaders and teachers were conducted in schools serving disadvantaged communities and were thematically analysed in order to identify common aspects of culture, environment and leadership behaviours in innovative schools. A system-level analysis through the lens of control factors (Oates, 2017) was then used to examine how system level factors facilitated or inhibited school-level innovation.

In this paper I will examine how school leaders shaped a vision of future-focused schooling for their community. I will then critically examine their response to official education policy relating to future-focused schooling and will explore how selected control factors facilitated or inhibited their capacity to deliver a future-focused education to students from lower socioeconomic status communities.

The paper is relevant at a policy level, for those considering the intended and unintended consequences of policy, and to educators who are interested in critically exploring how system factors shape their practice through the lens of future-focused education.