Year

2008

Degree Name

Doctor of Education

Department

Faculty of Education

Abstract

New schools open in Australia on a relatively frequent basis. However, there is little literature to inform the establishment phase of a new school. The literature that does exist suggests that new schools begin in a frenetic way. There is much excitement about possibilities and such schools appear to be places where all dreams are possible. Yet the literature has documented that they revert to the norm. This thesis presents a case study of a secondary school during the first two years of its establishment. Specifically it focuses on the challenges and issues that foundation and second year staff faced when establishing a new school. During the first two years of the school’s establishment I was the foundation curriculum coordinator, hence my role is that of participant observer.

The purpose of the study was to document the establishment phase of a new school from the perspective of an ‘insider’ and hence relate the issues and challenges that face staff during this critical period. It was hoped that the results might contribute to the literature in the area. The second was to establish what structures are vital when establishing a new school that would result in sustainable practice.

This study employed a method of case study design, and data collection included interviews with all foundation and second year staff, and analyses of observation journal and school archival documentation. Data analysis occurred in three distinct stages and was informed by Carney’s Analytical Ladder of Abstraction (1990). Stage 1 involved sourcing appropriate research on which initial themes could be identified. This search resulted in only a few documented case studies on new schools and several anecdotal descriptions. Stage 1 also involved an analysis of the observation journal to identify issues and themes at the case study school. This resulted in what is termed within this study as internal and external level forces that were in existence in the new school setting.

As research in the area of new schools was modest, Stage 2 of the process involved sourcing appropriate literature on which to further the study. The assumption was made early that a new school would be designed based on an effective school. Hence, literature in the areas of school effectiveness, school improvement, school reform and sustainability were used. These areas of educational research promised knowledge about not only what constitutes an effective school, but also how a school can become and be sustained as an effective school. A synthesis of this literature resulted in a set of new school design characteristics. This literature also indicated that major educational change and reform innovations are conducted without a theory base of a process. Stage 3 involved an analysis of participant interviews and school documentation, and a comparison of these findings against the internal and external level forces and the new school design characteristics.

During the time that the school has been in existence there has been only one Principal. The school’s original vision embraced principles of a middle school philosophy. The initial structures in terms of pastoral care and curriculum were to be based on these philosophies. After ten years some practices were sustained at the school. Primarily these structures were to do with pastoral care. The curriculum structures have not been sustained but during a recent follow-up interview with the Principal there was an indication that the initial philosophies were being revisited and attempts made to adopt appropriate middle school practices again. The findings of this study revealed challenges and issues in regards to eight critical structures, they were: vision and philosophy; effective decision-making and communication; basic managerial functioning; the wider community; appropriate professional development; clear role definitions; support of staff; and appropriate future planning. Also, the comparison of these eight structures against the internal and external level forces and the new school design characteristics resulted in an integrated set of new school design characteristics. By utilising the most recent literature in the area of comprehensive school reform, principles of design were also developed. The principles provide a framework by which the design principles would be enacted. The design principles refer to: the school as a human system, the clear articulation and acceptance of a vision; a design for the school; rules that govern practice that are specific, comprehensive, coherent and consistent; practices that are implicit and embedded; appropriate, consistent and emergent feedback; support of staff; and structures that disperse control and authority.

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