May 29, 2017

Perceptions of Policy Change

How school leaders and teachers respond to policy and practice change

In Singapore, a variety of policy changes have been facilitated over the past few years. Changes to educational policy can have an important influence on practices within schools. How school leaders respond to the change, and facilitate these reforms, can additionally affect the teachers’ perceptions of their performance, and ultimately student outcomes.

Understanding how policies are communicated, translated, and enacted is a key element to supporting educational innovation. Effective movement from the policy makers to leaders and teachers may help to speed up the transition into the new policy, and hopefully improve student achievement.  Dr. Catherine Chua looked at how Singaporean educators perceive the clarity of the policies that have been established, how effectively they have been communicated, and how these are implemented in schools.

Response and perception

751 school leaders and educators participated in a large scale survey, and 133 of those took part in focus group discussions. The findings from the survey found that while these educational stakeholders were not opposed to policy changes, they expected them to be communicated clearly. This included providing criteria, milestones, guidelines, expectations and assessment standards in or to direct their practice. By helping teachers familiarize themselves with the available resources and supports available, they thought they would be better able to respond to the change.

The teachers seemed to be driven by academic results, which meant the effect of policy changes on student formal examination outcomes was central to their perceptions. As long as they were able to see that the policies would help achieve improved academic results, they were willing to make the necessary changes.

Further, the educators expressed a preference for the Ministry of Education to inform them and provide sufficient information before the policy change is released, in order to prepare for the reforms. The stakeholders valued having some autonomy and direction to experiment with different changes. The teachers also expressed that they would benefit from a direct platform to communicate with the Ministry of Education, providing an opportunity to convey feedback to policy makers.

A balancing act

Dr. Chua’s study highlights that school leaders and teachers need to know the aims of a new policy, but more importantly how to achieve those aims, in order to work effectively after the change. Communication was essential to this process, as many teachers were uncomfortable with ‘unknowns,’ and the possible impact these might have on student achievement. Finding a balance between providing autonomy to schools, and ensuring the policy is enacted appropriately, will be an ongoing challenge for Singaporean education going forward.