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The forces impacting upon Australian schools and some implications for school leaders

posted on 2023-05-22, 12:59 authored by William MulfordWilliam Mulford, Edmunds, B, Cranston, N, Keating, J, Reid, A

Australian schools have always been seen as central to the project of nation building. However, since the start of the 21st centmy, the pwposes of Australian schools have been placed even more directly under the microscope due to the impact of a number of trends, influences or 'forces', such as technological change, the increasing diversity of the Australian population, the growth of a knowledge-based society and the globalisation of the economy, cultures and environment.

Taken together, these forces are challenging the very nature of schooling (Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE), 2004). They are causing educational organisations and systems around the world to broaden and personalise curricula (e.g., DfES, 2005; Leadbeater, 2004a, 2004b, & 2005) and to rethink school structures (Marginson, 1997; OECD, 2001a; Hartley, 1997; Levin & Riffel, 1997). In Australia there has been a flurry of activity designed to broaden the curricula by foregrounding generic skills and capabilities (e.g., Government of South Australia, 2006; Tasmanian Department of Education, 2005). And yet this activity is proceeding in the absence of an ongoing conversation that joins together this context, its implications for the organisation of schools and the implications of both for school leaders.

The position taken in this article is that school leaders have to be part of this conversation. While none of us can know what the future holds, we can work to shape that future, to make sure that, as far as possible, what happens is what we want to have happen. Occasionally school leaders need to position themselves so that they are able to see 'the bigger picture': to detach themselves from the hurly-burly of the moment, gain a more distant view of issues that are close by and pressing (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002). But care is needed. When lost on a highway, a road map is very useful; but when one is lost in a world where the topography, such as that provided by the education systems and structures that serve it, is constantly changing, a road map is of little help. A simple compass, something that indicates the general direction to be taken, is helpful, however.

The next section aims to provide just such a compass. It identifies and examines some cardinal points, or forces relevant to the terrain, and analyses some implications of each for schools and their leaders. Toe forces are advances in science and technology, changes in demography, globalisation, and pressures on the environment. A second section examines these implications in greater detail under the three headings: the need to choose between competing pressures created by the forces, especially between constant change and continuity, dependence and independence, individualism and community and homogeneity and heterogeneity; the need to broaden what counts as good schooling, especially to include social skills; and, ensuring that the way schools are organised and run is consistent with both of these needs, especially through greater use of living systems, deep democracy, personalisation through participation, and networks. All three implications urge far greater attention on the public purposes and processes of education than is currently the case. A third and final section takes these implications for school leader practice further by combining the material in the first two sections under the related 'public' concepts of social capital and communities of professional learners.


Publication title

Encyclopedia of Teaching and Teacher Research


BL Russo






Faculty of Education


Nova Science Publishers

Place of publication

Hauppauge, NY



Rights statement

Copyright Nova Science Publishers 2011.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Management, resources and leadership

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