Researching the public purposes of education in Australia: The results of a national survey of primary school principals

Year: 2009

Author: Cranston, Neil, Keating, Jack, Mulford, Bill, Reid, Alan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Historically, Australian schools have been seen as central to nation building. That is, as well as enhancing the life chances of individuals, schooling has had a number of public purposes that advance the interests of the society as a whole. However, in response to a variety of national and international forces, in the early part of the 21st century understanding around what is meant by public purposes has become less clear. Indeed, while there continues to be considerable investment of public funds in Australian schools, there are questions as to how schools today are serving public purposes.

This paper reports on an ARC-Linkage project (in partnership with the Australian Government Primary Principals' Association (AGPPA) and the Education Foundation) looking into such questions, focusing on primary schools in particular. Our 2007 AARE Conference paper set out the conceptual and theoretical framework for the research. Labaree's (1997) notions contributed to the theoretical base of our work, considering purposes such as democratic equality, social efficiency and social mobility. Our 2007 paper also described some of the early findings from policy and document analyses and interviews with key stakeholders, such as education system authorities, professional associations, business councils, unions and parent bodies.

The focus of this paper is on the first wave of results from a national survey of primary schools in Australia. The survey was developed from the earlier conceptual and analytical work outlined above undertaken in 2007 and 2008. The 2009 survey comprised 71 items of a closed format and 3 items of an open-ended format. Eight of the items addressed demographic information. The set of closed items required participants to identify firstly the importance they ascribed to particular purposes of education and how they could be enacted on five-point scales, then secondly to rate the degree to which they believed these purposes were actually enacted in their particular school. The open-ended items allowed respondents to expand on a range of matters, including any particular facilitators and barriers they saw for schools in achieving public purposes.

The national survey was distributed in electronic format through membership databases provided by AGPPA. In all, 1025 responses were received. The paper will provide a discussion of some of the key findings from the survey and raise some implications and possible recommendations flowing from these.

Key Phrase: Educational Policy, Leadership and Management