Expectations of Secondary Schools Report

Expectations of secondary schools: A study of the views of students, teachers, and parents (1978) from the School of Teacher Education, Canberra College of Advanced Education

Context of the survey

The most significant factor given for the changes in schools is the professionalising of the workforce. This has led to more comprehensive curricula that teaches life skills as well as academics and is underpinned by the philosophy that student interest should play a central role in determining learning goals. The chief purpose of secondary schooling­­ has shifted away from fostering academic excellence to helping “each individual student towards maturity and independence, ” i.e. to develop self-confidence, reasoning skills, self-expression and the ability to understand the self and others. (4)

Strong backlash against comprehensive high schools and a focus on individual development: the Australian Council for Educational Standards (ACES) argued that changes away from traditional forms of schooling have caused a “substantial decline in educational achievement” (5). This created a big concern about standards (especially around the three Rs and other academic subjects), which is expressed in an argument for discipline and against informality. Growing youth unemployment is used in this debate as evidence for the need for higher standards.

This study aims to see what students, parents and teachers actually think secondary school is for, although there are moments in the discussion where the authors acknowledge that responses are likely to be influenced by outside clamour.


Respondents are asked to rate statements on two 5-point scales, one of importance and one of achievement. Students and parents are asked to rate with themselves or their child and their schools in mind. Teachers are asked to rate having in mind “what the school should have taught most students.” Each statement begins with the words “It is the secondary school’s task to make sure that…”

Statements are grouped into three categories:

  1. Basics (reading, numeracy and articulate speaking)
  2. Fringe items (i.e. sex, drugs, religion, community services, hobbies, money management, creative expression, health, sport)
  3. Factor items, including academics, socialisation and discipline, personal autonomy, practical skills, social awareness.

Samples from across NSW (metro, rural and small towns, incl. catholic) and some from Melbourne.

Summary of results

  • Students, parents and teachers have high expectations of secondary schools. Of the 47 goals listed for an importance rating nearly all were rated “moderately important”, “important” or “very important”, and these spaned basic literacy and numeracy, academic items and fringe life skills items.
  • Remarkable consensus within sample groups, i.e. students, parents, teachers, on what is important for schools to teach.
  • Also consensus between groups: Reading and numeracy [literacy wasn’t in vogue yet, I suppose] are consistently seen as the most important priorities, with effective speaking not far behind. The other academic items are, in all samples, rank at the bottom with the humanities coming dead last.
  • Between the basics and academics, all groups saw personal autonomy and practical goals as important, and the fringe items that were ranked the highest were drug, sex, health and financial education.
  • The main point of difference between groups was the rating of practical goals. Students rated highly directly job-related skills and knowledge, where teachers were more concerned with personal autonomy and social awareness.
  • Unsurprisingly, students rank discipline and socialisation as only moderately important, while teachers and parents rank these of high importance.
  • Teachers judged the schools’ current performance most harshly, and Sydney teachers judged harshest of all.
  • There is a clear agreement between students and parents on priorities for improvement. Interestingly it is not reading and numeracy––these seemed to rate well. Speech, however, is rated as needing improvement.
  • Teachers agree that speech needs work, however, they also rated reading and numeracy poorly on the achievement scale.
  • The most important area for improvement, from the perspective of students and parents, is practical items.

Assistance of A. Pippard 2013.