Customising explicit outcomes from policy objectives: An action research guide to making funding work

Year: 2009

Author: Slee, June, Smith, Stephanie

Type of paper: Refereed paper

In June 2008, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) called for pilot proposals to improve student literacy and numeracy outcomes in low socio-economic and Indigenous school communities. DEEWR emphasised that proposals should be underpinned by evidence-based research, include provision for independent evaluation and, have the capacity to generalise to broader learning communities. A joint initiative between Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Catholic Education Northern Territory, received funding for its project Strong Foundations, which aimed at providing customised mentoring and resource development to twelve early learning centres in the Northern Territory. An action research approach was chosen to drive the Strong Foundation project because it would involve practitioners as researchers and have the capacity to solve practical problems with evidence generated by research. Furthermore, the integration of research and action would produce organic change agents which would be essential in this context. This paper responds to an early research finding from one of the twelve programs developed under the umbrella of the Strong Foundations' project: Arrurle Anthurre - Once Upon a Dreamtime. Trialling over a two-year period in the pre-school of a very remote Indigenous Catholic Community School, this program aims to strengthen early childhood pedagogy and the quality of developmental and learning experiences. During its second six weekly' review, the research team comprising pre-school, CDU and Catholic Education educators identified the need for a major change to the program. At that stage they were following a triadic model comprising DWEER's, Strong Foundations' and their own objectives and outcomes. It had become obvious that none of these was situation-specific enough for the diverse and complex setting in which the Arrurle Anthurre program was being implemented. The team decided that each DEEWR objective would be much more attainable if accompanied by explicit outcomes customised for its pre-school's setting, staff and students. This would also provide a useful platform for internal and external monitoring as well as guiding generalisation to other similar settings.

A work-in-progress, the primary purpose of this paper is to disseminate the process of developing explicit outcomes which operationalise DEEWR's objectives and in turn, facilitate the evaluation process and give greater accountability for how funding is spent. Through this paper, the action research team's experiences will be shared with other pilot schools and the wider school community as required by DEEWR's reporting expectations.