The program lets schools makes autonomous decisions about how best to use the money to address four goals, such as engaging parents and improving student achievements in areas like maths.
So far, the schools have been successful because they had the ability to spend the money how they wanted, the author of a progress report on the program says.
“Instead of having to fragment their already limited resources in a variety of different areas, they were able to focus on what they were doing well already and to make that better,” Dr Robert Simons told AAP. “That’s part of the genius of it.”
Dr Simons pointed to the success of a regional Queensland school in re-engaging indigenous students who’d dropped out. “That was brilliant because the model can be shared with others,” he said.
The $64 million Empowering Local Schools program started running in 926 government, independent and Catholic schools around the country in 2012. Its principles are tied to Labor’s new Better Schools funding model, which starts in 2014.
The Australian Council for Educational Research’s first progress report, written by Dr Simons and released on Wednesday, found schools from all sectors had reported early successes. A second progress report currently being worked on indicates the trend is continuing.
“There was some concern expressed at the very beginning of the program that principals and schools would just have things dumped on them, and that they’d just have to pick up more work,” he told AAP. “It’s not doing that at all".
“It’s actually giving them an opportunity to grow their strengths so that down the track they’ll be able to assume even greater levels of local decision making for the benefit of their students.”
Education Minister Bill Shorten said the report confirmed the value of trusting principals and school communities to chart their own future.