Curriculum management at one outstanding high school

Superior academic achievement at a secondary school in Western Australia led researchers to study the management processes that shaped its curriculum.

Clive Dimmock and Helen Wildy, University of Western Australia, chose the most academically successful public high school of 24 in the region. They used interviews, observations, analysis of records and nine data-collection instruments to identify the complex links between the management process and teaching/learning results.

Dimmock and Wildy examined both the perceived role and the actual practice of school staff members, including the principal and assistant principals, department heads and teachers, to determine which staff members contributed most directly to educational leadership and curriculum management. They cross-checked data from different sources to discriminate between stated school policies and job descriptions and actual day-to-day practice.

Focus on academic achievement

While the senior managers (principal and assistants) perceived curriculum management to be their responsibility, none of them played any substantial role in the direct management of curriculum. However, the principal reinforced the school’s high academic standards by creating and maintaining a culture and climate focused on academic achievement. He directed a program of formal recognition of students’ success that involved students, teachers, parents and community leaders. His was a public-relations role.

He used the results of external examinations to acknowledge department successes and to pinpoint problem areas, which he addressed with changes in training, staffing and funding. The assistant principals had close relationships with students and parents and supported the climate of academic excellence through their efforts to promote school values, morale and good will. These researchers point out that there was pressure from parents and students for academic excellence.

Teachers managed and developed curricula

It was the department heads and classroom teachers, however, who emerged as the primary developers and managers of curricula. Dimmock and Wildy report that while the caliber of teachers at the school was no different than in the other public secondary schools in the area, the quality of teaching was perceived to be superior across departments. The most important factor contributing to the high quality of teaching and learning appears to have been the leadership of department heads and their close relationship with teachers. Both formally and informally, through planned meetings and evaluations and casual social interactions, this supportive relationship drove improvements in teaching and learning.

No schoolwide curricular management plan

In this academically successful school, high performance was achieved without a schoolwide curriculum management plan. The senior school management had no direct link to curricular decisions or teaching practices but were very active in creating a climate conducive to academic excellence, with the support of parents and the wider community. The expertise of department heads drove curriculum development. Through their close, cooperative work with teachers, curriculum was carefully crafted and teaching practices and learning outcomes monitored and improved.

“Conceptualizing Curriculum Management in an Effective Secondary School: A Western Australian Case Study” The Curriculum Journal Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 1995 pp. 297-323.

Published in ERN March/April 1996 Volume 9 Number 2

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