Annual school reports are a means to make schools accountable to parents and other members of the school community. In 1997 the New South Wales Department of Education and Training replaced performance agreements for principals in public schools with a new accountability process based on annual school reports.
In July this year the Department produced a new format for primary school and secondary school annual reports. The new format, still in draft form, will be trialled in about 50 schools in first term 2006, using 2005 data.
The new annual school reports will cover:
- student performance in state-wide tests, in the form of easy-to-read graphs and tables
- a comparison of the performance of students in state-wide tests
- across the state
- in similar schools (all schools in the state are divided into groups of similar schools called Like School Groups. Schools will compare their results with the state and their Like School Group)
- against the school’s performance over recent years
- the proportion of students meeting national benchmarks in literacy and numeracy over time
- School Management Plan targets and achievements
- a Parents and Citizens’ Association report
- a student representative body report
- trends in student attendance
- staff qualifications, retention, attendance and participation in professional learning
- parent, student and teacher satisfaction survey information.
Changes to annual school reports are needed to respond to the State Government’s election commitments and other requirements to make reporting to parents more accountable and accessible, and to comply with the reporting requirements of the Australian Government’s Schools Assistance Act and Regulations.
The changes are also a response to nine recommendations for changes to annual school reports proposed by the Auditor-General, in Performance Audit: School Annual Reports, a major report published in September 2004.
For this report the Audit Office examined a representative sample comprising five per cent of recent school annual reports. The sample of 125 schools covered metropolitan, regional and rural communities and reflected the variety of school types within the system. The report examined the last two years of annual reports available from each of the selected schools. (Many schools did not produce an annual report in 2003 as a result of an industrial ban.)
Key findings of the Auditor-General’s report
- Schools make a considerable effort to prepare school annual reports in accordance with the requirements that have been established.
- The Department provides schools with a reporting template, an extensive range of ‘value-added’ indicators that illustrate students’ academic progress over time, and a range of other data based on external test results at key points and in key areas, allowing schools to interpret their students' performance more accurately.
- Policies, legislation and regulations prohibit the release of comparative information on the effectiveness and performance of schools in terms of student achievement; although every school compares its academic performance and attendance against the state average, schools are given significant scope to ‘pick and choose’ indicators of their achievement, thereby allowing them to choose not to report adverse information.
- School annual reports seldom provide a complete and informative picture of achievements in key learning areas. Schools tend to report student achievement selectively, focusing on the most positive results, with relatively unbalanced reporting across a range of areas.
- Schools generally do not include details of why they did not achieve as well as expected.
- Where schools have selected a specific educational management or curriculum area for evaluation, they may report the genuine findings of the evaluation, but over-emphasise the positives and understate performance issues needing attention.
- The Department intended that a school self-evaluation committee would drive the evaluating and reporting process. The committee would be representative of the school community (including parents), students and staff members; however, the self-evaluation committees do not generally function in the proactive manner envisaged.
- School annual reports offer little, if any, information on teacher credentials, secondary class sizes, actual parental involvement and participation, and whether the schools are properly resourced for staff, special needs, facilities and equipment.
Source: Executive summary, School Annual Reports
The Auditor-General’s report recommended that the Department of Education and Training strengthen the role of school annual reports in promoting public accountability by
- reporting within a more rigorous framework for monitoring and reporting the performance of schools consisting of
- annual student performance reporting
- annual reports of progress against the School Management Plan
- results of external evaluation
- results of financial audits
- re-examining the material that schools may report to introduce a degree of school comparison and benchmarking, possibly with more emphasis on value-adding and comparisons between schools in like circumstances
- linking the school annual report to a School Management Plan focused on school-specific and systemic needs, targets, resource needs and measures, including a professional learning component
- placing an outcome requirement on school principals for school annual reports with minimum reporting standards, rather than trying to specify what, when and how the content should be presented to parents and the community
- including in each school’s annual report a report from the Parents and Citizens' President in their area
- increasing the accessibility of school annual reports to the public by putting every school annual report on the Department’s website
- establishing an accreditation scheme for schools that could assure an adequate standard of self evaluation and reporting for a quality-endorsed school
- establishing a means of external review, sufficiently removed from the school to ensure objectivity in reporting
- using the School Promotion package as a more effective and more flexible means of promoting the school to prospective parents than the school annual report.
Source: Executive summary, School Annual Reports
These draft annual school reports represent the first step in developing a new Annual School Report for New South Wales schools. The number of headings and the amount of text in the attached sample annual school report is more than most schools would normally include in the reports. The Department aims to modify the way some of the graphical data is presented for small school annual school reports.
In developing the new format report, the Department will continue regular consultation with Primary Principals’ Association, the Secondary Principals’ Council, the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations and the New South Wales Teachers Federation.
This article has been sourced from New Annual School Reports, a statement from Gillian Shadwick, General Manager, Learning and Development, Department of Education and Training New South Wales 20 July 2005, and from Performance Audit: School Annual Reports: Department of Education and Training/Audit Office of New South Wales September 2004.