Evidence for Learning: School organisation

School organisation

Evidence on school organisation from the Teaching and Learning Toolkit alongside other supporting resources.

This page covers school-level structural and organisational issues such as timetabling, the amount of time spent at school, class size and composition, the built environment, and the purchasing of digital technology. These factors can often be costly to change, both financially and in terms of staff workload. It is therefore important that school leaders have good information about the impact that they can have on student outcomes, and consider whether there are more cost-effective ways of achieving their goals.

The approaches in the Toolkit which relate to school structures and organisation have a lower impact, on average, than those that specifically aim to improve the quality of teaching and learning. In broad terms, then, the evidence is clear that changing organisational factors will have limited impact on academic achievement unless the change leads to improved teaching.

For example, reducing class size does not appear to have a big effect on achievement unless it enables the teacher to change the way that they teach. This typically requires a substantial change in class size (e.g., from 30 down to 20 or even 15).

Some approaches, such as summer schools and extending school time are also relatively expensive, on average, compared to other approaches in the Toolkit which have similar impacts. The key message here is to use students’ existing time in school better, before deciding to increase the amount of time they’re there.

Schools should therefore consider the cost as well as the impact of these approaches when deciding whether to adopt or continue with them. While uncommon in Australia, summer schools are a feature of education in the UK and US. Research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) into the effectiveness of summer schools concluded that the relatively high cost of the programs made it likely that other approaches to improving achievement would be more cost-effective.

The evidence for this theme often challenges ideas about approaches – such as reducing class sizes, setting and streaming, and school uniform – which might intuitively appear likely to have a positive impact, but which the evidence suggests have limited (or even negative) effect. For example, while requiring students who haven’t passed their exams to repeat a year of schooling might be expected to improve their grades, the evidence suggests that it is very expensive and, on average, has a negative impact on outcomes.