Investigations into using data to improve learning

My School Australia case study

In 2010, the Australian Commonwealth Government, in partnership with the Australian states and territories, created an online tool called My School. The objective of My School was to enable the collation and publication of data about the nearly 10,000 schools across the country. Effectively offering a report card for each Australian school,[1] My School was designed to “give parents and the wider community more information than they have ever had before about their local school and how it is performing.”[2]

My School is best understood within the broader Australian education context, in which the Australian states and territories have primary responsibility for the delivery of schooling. The Commonwealth Government can exercise considerable influence over education priorities since it provides funding to all Australian schools—both government and nongovernment.

My School was designed to enable a better understanding of school performance across Australia by collating and publishing comparative school data. The website provides three categories of data on Australian schools: student performance, school finances and resources, and operational context. The platform enables stakeholders to compare these data across similar schools. An important element of My School is ICSEA (the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage), a score that enables fair comparisons among similar schools based on socio-educational factors. My School is accessed by a wide range of stakeholders including parents, policymakers, school leaders, and journalists. In 2013, approximately 1.45 million total users visited the website, of whom 0.79 million were unique visitors.

Many enabling factors led to the successful development and implementation of My School. It was developed as part of a broader suite of education reforms driven by Julia Gillard, who was then the deputy prime minister and education minister and subsequently became prime minister. There were strong relationships between the Commonwealth and states at the time of My School’s development, with Australian Labor Party governments at both the federal and state/territory levels across the country, and intergovernmental structures for education policy decisionmaking were robust.

Furthermore, much of the data published on My School were already being collected, and so the focus of the initiative was on how to centralize and publish the data, rather than how to create them. Since My School was a tool delivered online, high internet penetration in Australia was also critical to its success.

As with all policy initiatives, My School faced challenges. These included the need for coordination across school sectors and levels of government, limited school choice, and opposition from some stakeholder groups, primarily teachers unions. The unions were concerned that My School would be used to identify and shame poorly performing schools and that it would place undue pressure on teachers and create a high-stakes learning environment. There were also challenges around how to protect data on the site from republication in league tables.

My School was ultimately implemented following intense stakeholder engagement and communication, led by Gillard, to build consensus and support for the initiative. Its practical implementation was led by ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority), a central body established to oversee the collection of national education data and to operate the My School website, among other roles. ACARA is a statutory authority, not a department, allowing the Commonwealth, state, and territory governments to collectively contribute to the management of My School.

My School has undergone several rounds of revisions since its launch. Between its first and second years in operation, the website’s functionality was significantly improved. Key revisions included an improved search function, new menu items, and increased data protection measures to guard against misuse of data. In the years since, more data sets and broader contextual information have been added. Usability of the site has been continually improved as information on user experience has been captured and better understood.

My School has proved to be a useful tool for many parents, policymakers, education researchers, and the wider community. While there continue to be opportunities to strengthen and refine My School, there appears to be little risk of its being abolished. Stakeholders broadly agree that it is now “part of the furniture” of the Australian education system and is here to stay. Lessons from the Australian experience can assist in the understanding the applicability of similar information-based tools in other parts of the world.

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