Ken Rowe, ACER

Publication Date



Background paper to invited address presented at the Making Schools Better summit conference, Melbourne Business School, the University of Melbourne, 26-27 August 2004.


Given the level of consensus regarding the importance of school education as an essential element of micro- and macro economic reform, policy issues surrounding school and teacher effectiveness are of particular importance. However, much of the traditional and prevailing dogmas surrounding ‘factors’ affecting students’ experiences and outcomes of schooling throughout their primary and secondary years, especially socio-cultural and socio-economic factors, are now understood to be products of methodological and statistical artifact, and amount to little more than ‘religious’ adherence to the moribund ideologies of biological and social determinism. Above all, a good deal of this ‘discourse’ is not supported by findings from evidence-based research. In this paper, key findings are presented that highlight ‘real’ effects from the related international and Australian research on educational effectiveness. For example, whereas students’ literacy skills, general academic achievements, attitudes, behaviors and experiences of schooling are influenced by their background and intake characteristics, the magnitude of these effects pale into insignificance compared with quality teaching. That is, the quality of teaching and learning provision are by far the most salient influences on students’ cognitive, affective, social and behavioral outcomes of schooling – regardless of their gender or backgrounds and the schools in which they are enrolled. Indeed, findings from the related local and international evidence-based research indicate that ‘what matters most’ in ‘making school better’ is quality teaching: by competent teachers, beginning with initial teacher education and training supported by strategic, on-going capacity building via teacher professional development.