But an assessment by the department’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation found expected Higher School Certificate completion rates had fallen by between two and six percentage points between 2011 and 2019.
The completion rates of advantaged schools fell much less than those of disadvantaged schools. HSC results in disadvantaged schools also fell. “Overall, [the evaluation] suggests that very high-need schools are declining in all HSC outcomes,” it said. “This means that the gap in HSC completion and high-performance rates between higher and lower need schools increased.”
Department surveys also showed wellbeing in disadvantaged schools had either not improved or had worsened over time, and primary school students’ positive sense of belonging had fallen since 2015.
The evaluation also said the policy failed to set out criteria for success. “It may be reasonable to conclude that this reform, as with most other major education programs, was ultimately intended to improve student outcomes,” it said. “However, the policy documentation did not explicitly ask schools to demonstrate how changes they made under [policy], or funding decisions they made … improved student outcomes, nor to report on that improvement.”
Principals told the evaluation they welcomed the increased flexibility but it had come with problems, such as increased workload, more red tape, and a lack of guidance from the department with the loss of centralised services.
Education Minister Sarah Mitchell recently replaced Local Schools, Local Decisions with the School Success Model, in which schools will be given targets on NAPLAN, HSC and wellbeing. A failure to meet them will trigger departmental intervention.
“The [report] shows that the old policy allowed our best schools to use evidence-based programs to great effect. However, it hindered the government’s ability to help underperforming schools and address the reasons behind this underperformance,” said Ms Mitchell. “The School Success Model will give government back the policy levers needed to ensure that all schools are improving at the rate we would expect.”
President of the NSW Teachers Federation Angelo Gavrielatos said Local Schools, Local Decisions was always about funding rather than education.
“It is founded in ideology aimed at shifting responsibility and ultimately blame onto schools, and ultimately to drive cuts to the provision of education,” he said.
“[The policy] has been a failure, stripping much-needed support from schools. There’s no surprise, therefore, that the final report cites 90 per cent of principals who believe it contributed to administrative burden on schools.
“Unfortunately what the government announced to replace [Local Schools, Local Decisions] was more spin than substance because the government failed to reinstate the support teachers and principals need, and to address the administrative load.”
Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald