ISSAL—International Study of School Autonomy and Learning (Hong Kong Part) 

This research is the Hong Kong part of an international and comparative study of school autonomy, leadership and learning involving 7 education systems functioning in Australia, Canada (Alberta), England, Finland, Hong Kong, Israel and Singapore. The international teams launched the research project in May 2014 in Jerusalem. In response to challenges from globalization in the last two decades, numerous education reforms have been initiated worldwide. The changes towards school autonomy are often assumed as an important approach to improving school practices to meet changing expectations of stakeholders and high demands for new education in the 21st century. Unfortunately, this assumption still lacks strong international evidence with comprehensive empirical findings to support its validity across different cultural backgrounds. In particular, (a) both within-country and cross-country quantitative research at a broader level showed that the direct gain in school performance produced by increasing autonomy is relatively small and (b) the results of a large number of studies on the impact of varying levels of school autonomy within countries differed quite widely and it was difficult to generalize from them (Grattan Institute Report, 2013). Further evidence showed that contingent with the nature and level of school autonomy, accountability structures, and development stages of school, the impact of autonomy on school performance was found to be inconsistent (PISA in Focus, 2011). In particular, how the role of principals and teachers in association with the use of increased school autonomy to enhance learning needs in-depth study locally and internationally. The research gaps hinder further development of school autonomy, leadership and other learning initiatives in Hong Kong and beyond.

Through case studies, interviews, sample surveys, and international comparisons, this project aims to fill the research gaps with the following objectives in Hong Kong in particular and the other 6 education systems in general: (1) To develop a theoretical base for understanding how school autonomy – in terms of both structures and cultures - influences leadership practices in relation to curriculum and learning in the 21st Century; and (2) To investigate empirically (a) what aspects of structural autonomy are the most influential on leadership practices in relation to professional learning and student learning; (b) how school leaders consistently utilize their autonomy to enhance student outcomes and develop staff capacity; (c) how the school system builds cultures of autonomy; and (d) how accountability structures support or constrain development of cultures of autonomy.

Investigator(s): CHENG, Yin Cheong [EPL]; KO, Yue On James [EPL]; LEE, Tai Hoi Theodore [EPL]; CALDWELL, Brian; GREANY, Toby; SAARIVIRTA. Toni; NEWTON, Paul; HUNG, David; ZOHAR, Anat