Sharing good practice: Gonski and quality assurance processes

In this fortnightly series, Teacher takes a closer look at some of the Gonski recommendations and highlights existing work by educators to illustrate what they might look like in practice. Here, we explore the use of internal self-reviews and external quality assurance processes for school improvement.

Leadership teams can use internal self-reviews and external audits to drive school improvement by identifying their student and staff needs, focus their efforts by highlighting strengths and areas for development, and reflect on and monitor their progress in improving student outcomes.

When discussing continuous improvement and meeting high aspirations, the Gonski review panel says evaluation is critical.

Recommendation 21: Enhance school and system internal self-review and external quality assurance processes, for the purposes of monitoring and reviewing student learning gain and achievement.

The panel suggests school systems and schools in Australia need to shift from an ‘industrial' to an ‘adaptive, continuously improving' education model – one focused on maximum potential growth in learning for each individual student.

It cites an OECD report noting authentic evaluation which leads to improvement at all levels is not only central to high-performing systems, but instrumental in recognising and rewarding the good work of educators.

Finding 16 of the Gonski review states: ‘As Australian schools transition to diagnostic assessment and differentiated teaching within the framework of learning progressions, there will be increasing opportunities for, and benefits gained from, external quality review processes at school and system level. Continuous improvement in Australian education will be supported by the variety of quality assurance processes increasingly utilised by Australian school systems and schools.'

Adapting and using frameworks during these evaluations, the panel says, will support classroom practitioners in making and verifying judgements about student growth against learning progressions. ‘Most Australian school systems and schools have school improvement and quality assurance frameworks that inform continuous improvement,' its report says. ‘They are applied during periodic reviews using tools such as the National School Improvement Tool developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).'

Periodic reviews using tools

Professor Pauline Taylor-Guy, Director of ACER Institute says this Gonski recommendation emphasises the importance of review and quality assurance processes that focus on improvement in student learning and outcomes, rather than compliance.

‘I also think this recommendation validates the work that is currently occurring in many education systems and schools across Australia. Since 2014, ACER has been supporting schools and, more recently, education systems using the National School Improvement Tool (NSIT).'

The NSIT describes the practices of highly effective schools in improving student learning, based on evidence from international research findings.

‘The NSIT has been used in schools across Australia and internationally as a framework for pinpointing where a school is on its improvement journey through gathering evidence of school practices,' Taylor-Guy says.

‘It is used by schools as a basis for self-assessment and by trained, external reviewers to provide an independent perspective. The power of all ACER improvement tools, is that they describe the most impactful practices for improvement, help create a shared language about improvement and make explicit different levels of performance which point to how to improve practice.'

In 2017, ACER developed two further improvement tools: an Education System Improvement Tool (ESIT) and a Principal Performance Improvement Tool (PPIT).

The ESIT originated in a partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Wagga Wagga, in New South Wales, and recognises that education systems as well as schools need to set goals, design strategies for improvement and monitor and demonstrate improvement over time.

The PPIT was developed through a profession-led collaboration of school principals and ACER, facilitated by the Western Australian Department of Education.

School examples

The Gonski panel says it is important schools identify improvement measures that are relevant to their own context and evaluations go beyond academic achievement to also include areas such as ‘school culture, pedagogical practices, and school-community partnerships'.

In 2015, Teacher spoke to principal Coralee Pratt about how she used an internal self-assessment followed by an NSIT external audit, which covers nine interrelated domains: an explicit improvement agenda; analysis and discussion of data; a culture that promotes learning; targeted use of school resources; an expert teaching team; systematic curriculum delivery; differential classroom learning; effective teaching practice; and school-community partnerships. ‘As a school you decide on your journey from there,' she explained, adding, ‘We used the tool domains and the performance levels as our framework for our Strategic Plan, and the key improvement strategies in the classroom, what they looked like. So, we were aiming for consistency across the school.'

And, in a leadership Q&A Beth Gilligan, Principal of Dominic College in Tasmania, told us how an NSIT review prompted the college to develop an explicit school improvement agenda that addressed its own context and needs by focusing on three priorities: student data discussion and analysis; literacy and numeracy; and, a quality teacher development program. ‘For example, in our improvement of pedagogy we were really looking for a way for teachers to reflect on their practice and it took us a while to look at how we could do that in a streamlined fashion; how we could use collegial observation and feedback as well as supervised observation and feedback. We tried to look for tools and a way in which to do that, a process and framework around it.'

This Teacher article explores some of the challenges around leading sustainable school improvement based on common findings in relation to how schools are using the tool. One area was how to communicate the plan and progress. Sharing her own approach, Gilligan told us it's up to the principal to keep driving things, keep the focus and constantly say to themselves ‘”where are we going with this?”, “where are we up to with that?” and keeping it on the agenda – certainly both for staff and with the parent community.'

The Gonski review panel's findings and recommendations on internal self-review and external quality assurance processes, and references to supporting research, can be found in Chapter Five (5.3) of the report. A copy of the full report is available to download by clicking on the link.


Australian Government Department of Education and Training (2018). Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra.

All articles in this series:

As a principal: What evaluation tools and frameworks do you use to help drive school improvement? When identifying school improvement measures do you look to include areas beyond academic achievement? In what way do you ensure these measures address your own school context, and staff and student needs?