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Literature Review on Public Sector and School Innovation

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Published: 21st Apr 2021

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Tagged: EducationPublic Sector

There is a long history of research on the economics of innovation, and the importance of innovation to economic development (e.g. Schumpeter 1934, 1942). Scholars have grappled with how innovative practices are adopted and diffused to create value in a public sector context (e.g. Walker 1969), and there has been a renewed focus on public sector innovation in recent years (Borins 2001; Mulgan and Albury 2003; Windrum and Koch 2008; Potts 2010; Potts and Kastelle 2010; Bloch and Bugge 2013; Mulgan 2014).

The impact of regulation on public sector innovation remains unclear within the current theoretical framework. This paper proposes to advance this understanding by bringing the public sector innovation literature into conversation with the existing research on school autonomy. This paper explores regulatory constraints on innovation in service delivery by examining Queensland’s Independent Public Schools (‘IPS’) program, which was announced in 2012 and commenced operation in 2013. This program was instituted specifically to provide schools with additional ‘autonomies focused on cutting red tape and opening up new opportunities for innovation’ (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012a). Admission to this program is through an expression of interest that required schools to specify what innovative programs or practices they would implement as an IPS (‘Innovation Question’). This paper systematically examines responses to the Innovation Question from successful applicant school principals, showing the perceived effect on innovation as regulatory constraints change.

The paper is arranged as follows: Section 1 outlines the public sector innovation literature; Section 2 considers the relevance of the school autonomy literature; Section 3 introduces Queensland’s IPS program; Section 4 outlines the study’s method; Section 5 discusses the results; Section 6 concludes the paper by considering the study’s implications and directions for future research.

1. Public Sector Innovation

Innovation is essential to the improvement of public sector services (Albury 2005). It is important because it is a significant area of public expenditure, in terms of budget and as a percentage of GDP (Potts and Kastelle 2010). This expenditure on public sector services has grown over the last decade. For example, in 2014-15, combined government recurrent spending on public school education in Australia totalled $40.3 billion – a real increase of $7.6 billion from 2005-06 (Productivity Commission 2017). The size of the sector means that there is considerable scope for innovation to drive improvements in service delivery. Additionally, productivity and efficiency gains through innovation mean that improvements can be achieved without the sector becoming an increasing drag on economic activity (Moran 2010, Stewart-Weeks and Kastelle 2015).

There is tension about what is considered innovation in the context of the public sector. Mulgan (2007) adopts an outward facing definition of innovation: ‘new ideas that work at creating public value’ (Mulgan, 2007, p.6). While variations on that definition have been adopted by other scholars (e.g. Kastelle and Steen 2011; Stewart-Weeks and Kastelle 2015), incorporating any measure of “public value” into measurement of public sector innovation seems problematic. The term is imprecise (Klein et al. 2010), and calls for a socio-political judgement about the perceived value that is somehow distinct from the collection of disparate subjective private interests (Buchanan and Tullock 1962). In contrast, Moore, Sparrow and Spelman (1997) set a low standard, defining innovation as ‘novelty’ combined with a ‘degree of change in relation to the organisation’ (cited in Bloch and Bugge 2013, p. 5). This is an inward-looking definition, as novelty is not meant in comparison to other public sector organisations but the subject organisation itself.

Another approach focusses on the systematic processes of innovation. Schumpeter describes innovation as the “perennial gale of creative destruction” – a transformative process where economic development results from entrepreneurs employing new combinations of resources that blows through and displaces existing ways of doing things (1934; 1942, p. 73). Innovation, in this way, is made manifest in typologies of innovations. For example, Stewart-Weeks and Kastelle (2015) adopt Schumpeter’s five forms of innovation (i.e. new products, new methods of production, new sources of supply, the exploitation of new markets and new ways to organise business) and contend that there are many occurrences of public sector service innovation in each of those categories. It has been argued that the “Schumpeterian” conception of innovation provides a solid platform for analysis for new directions in public sector innovation scholarship (Potts 2009; Potts and Kastelle 2010; Potts 2010; Stewart-Weeks and Kastelle 2015). Accordingly, this paper will adopt the Schumpeterian conception – informing its methodological approach and analytical framework.

The underlying assumption of the public sector innovation literature is that the public sector suffers from a lack of innovation (e.g. Borins 2001; Albury 2005; Mulgan 2007; Windrum and Koch 2008; Potts 2009; Potts and Kastelle 2010; Mulgan 2014). Indeed, there is a popular perception that public sector innovation is an oxymoron (Bommert 2010). The standard explanation focuses on the structure and culture that is typical of public sector bodies: heavily bureaucratic structures (Bommert 2010), a conservative approach to risk management (e.g. Mulgan and Albury 2003, Albury 2005, Koch et al. 2006, Bommert 2010, and Stewart-Weeks and Kastelle 2015) matched with a lack of financial incentives (Borrins 2001; Mulgan and Albury 2003; Moran 2010; Bloch and Bugge 2013). The standard approach to public sector innovation attempts to alleviate these symptoms by adopting practices observed in private sector firms – an approach this paper calls the “public-private model”.

Governments provide a wide array of services, and regulation is used by governments to achieve the public policy objectives that underpin each area of service delivery (Freiberg 2017). Commonly, regulation is thought of as something governments impose on the private sector – but regulation occurs inside government too, where ‘public organisations are shaped by rules and standards emanating from arm’s-length authorities’ (Hood et al. 1999, p. 3-4). Regulation, in the public sector context, is not the actions that public servants take in providing the services but rather the frameworks governing this service delivery (Freiberg 2017). These regulatory frameworks are inherently prescriptive (Mises 1945), although it is a matter of degree as some public sector bodies will have greater scope and flexibility in service delivery than others.

There appears to be a clear link between regulation and public sector innovation. Applied to the five forms of innovation, discussed above, regulation will act as a constraint on innovation where it limits or prescribes the scope of services that can be delivered, the methods that are used, those able to provide services, those able to receive services, and the organisational parameters for service delivery units. In addition, public sector innovation could also be constrained by “red tape” consisting of those ‘rules, regulations, and procedures that remain in force and entail a compliance burden but [do] not advance the legitimate purposes the rules were intended to serve’ (Bozeman 2000, p. 12).

Curiously, the effect of regulation on innovation has not been a core focus of public sector innovation scholarship, despite an emerging literature in the private sector context (e.g. Braunerhjelm et al. 2015), and previous work on the dynamics between public authorities and private operators (e.g. Ongkittikul and Geerlings 2006) and the scale of regulation inside government more broadly (e.g. Hood et al. 1999). An exception within the public sector innovation literature is Bloch and Bugge (2013) who found that more than half of respondents to a Nordic survey stated that fulfilling new regulations was an important objective for their innovations. Borins (2014) made a similar finding based on a United States data set of innovation awards, although also noted that regulation could be an obstacle. Although the detail of these regulations was not the focus of those two studies, the substance is important in identifying the source of public sector innovation.

In considering the sources of innovation, Ongkittikul and Geerlings (2006) observe two patterns. The first pattern is where regulatory change leads to innovation; applied to the public sector context, regulatory change fosters the dynamic process of innovation and lead to new methods of service delivery, for example, being developed and adopted in the public sector (endogenous innovation). Conversely, regulation may constrain innovation by limiting the ability of public sector actors to adopt innovative practices. The second pattern is where regulatory tools are used to enable diffusion where innovation has already occurred; in this case, regulatory changes impose new methods of service delivery, for example, on the public sector (exogenous innovation). Whether the second pattern is truly public sector innovation – as the innovation occurs externally – is an open question, and beyond the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, the second pattern presents a practical problem for measurement in that a high number of observed innovative practices over time could be the result of a high amount of regulatory or policy change – rather than because there is a more innovative public sector. Bloch and Bugge (2016) concede this point in a follow up study. The focus of this paper will be to explore the first pattern of regulatory change by exploring an example of a specific proposal to remove regulatory constraints and assessing the impact on innovation at the service delivery level.

A specific example of regulatory change is needed because each public sector service has its own distinct regulatory and institutional frameworks, we expect the effect of regulation on public sector innovation to vary between services. Accordingly, one way that we can further understand this relationship is by looking to the sector-specific literature. In the next section, we consider public education through the literature on school autonomy and school choice.

2. School autonomy

Public education services provides a good context for exploring the connection between regulation and public sector innovation within Australia due to the trend of state governments moving towards greater school autonomy in the public education system (e.g. Victoria in 1993, Western Australia in 2009, and Queensland in 2013). Proponents of decentralised service models argue that individual schools will be incentivised to be innovative if they are given more autonomy (e.g. Friedman 1955; Chubb and Moe 1990; Caldwell and Hayward 1998).

There is no single decentralised service delivery model. There are institutional arrangements that can free up the demand or the supply side of public education services (Witte and Rigdon 1993; Mintrom and Vergari 1997). On the supply side, “Charter Schools” are the most pervasive in the United States and the considered extensively in the academic literature. Charter schools are ‘non-sectarian, publicly funded schools of choice’ that ‘operate in parallel with—and often in competition with— traditional public schools’ (Allen and Mintrom, 2010, p. 457). In theory, charter schools should be free from many of the regulations that are applicable to other public schools to foster innovation (Chubb and Moe 1990; Wohlstetter et al. 1995; Lubienski 2003; Preston et al. 2012). Indeed, stimulating innovation is an explicit intent of some charter school legislation (Steedman, Cummins and Ricciardelli, 2014). The empirical evidence of the link between charter schools and innovation is mixed (see e.g.: Lubienski 2003; Preston et al. 2012). Nevertheless, two theoretical perspectives underpinning the charter school literature may be helpful to explain the lack of public sector innovation. First, market theory argues that competition between schools will create the incentives needed for a diverse range of offerings, and motivate schools to be more responsive and innovative to cater for students’ needs (Preston et al. 2012). This perspective is analogous to the existing public-private model: incentivising innovation by making the public sector function more like a private market. One way this could be achieved is having local governments compete for the provision of public goods (Tiebout 1956). However, this perspective is currently of limited value in the present context because there are no Australian jurisdictions which have implemented meaningful competition in public education. The second perspective is that if charter schools are free from centralised bureaucracy they will enjoy greater autonomy to ‘experiment with new organisational and instructional strategies’ (Preston et al. 2012, p. 319). Although, the characteristics of charter schools can differ depending on state laws – some jurisdictions are more permissive than others (Mintrom and Vergari 1997; Finnigan 2007). Regulatory barriers constrain the potential of charter schools to innovate. For instance, Wilson (2013) discusses regulatory requirements around teacher tenure and teacher qualifications, lengthy approval processes, legislative caps on the number of charter schools, financial controls, and governance requirements, all of which present difficulties in replicating high-performing charters. Nevertheless, it is the autonomy perspective that provides us with a path beyond the current public-private model by reframing the question; instead of making a comparison between the public sector and the private sector, this perspective calls for an examination of the regulatory frameworks that impact public sector service delivery – and their effect on innovation.

In Australia, there is already some progress. For example, Caldwell and Spinks (2013) identify that command-and-control approaches are one reason that there is a lack of disruptive innovation in schools. This is an important finding, because it means that decentralised service delivery may be being implemented without full regard to applicable regulatory and governance constraints, which may be undermining innovation – one of the key justifications for decentralisation. Another example is that in an evaluation of Western Australia’s IPS program introduced in 2009, the Centre for Program Evaluation at the University of Melbourne found that increased principal accountability and autonomy encouraged ‘a stronger sense of entrepreneurship and engagement as school leaders’ (2013, p. 7). This sharpens our understanding of how innovation occurs in schools by thinking of school principals as entrepreneurs employing new combinations of productive factors (Schumpeter 1934) – even if some principals might personally resist that characterisation (Gobby 2013). The sections of the paper to follow will examine the effect on innovation of Queensland’s attempt to move to a more decentralised model of service delivery in public education.

3. The Queensland Independent Public Schools program

In Queensland, public education is managed through a centralised government agency – the Department of Education and Training.  The organisational structure provides that operations, governance, schooling policy, and teacher employment are managed centrally, and the individual school principals report to this bureaucracy through seven regional directors (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012b).

In the lead-up to the 2012 state election, the Liberal National Party (‘LNP’) announced its Preparing Our Children for Future Success policy (Liberal National Party 2012). This policy document outlined a proposal to introduce an Independent Public Schools program that would allow school principals and school councils to have greater control and ownership over the operation of their school. That is, local schools would be given greater autonomy to make local decisions. The policy was opposed by the incumbent Labor government and the Queensland Teachers’ Union (Hurst2011).

After the LNP’s successful election, the newly appointed Education Minister set about implementing the IPS initiative. The prospectus (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012a) explained that schools had a range of “autonomies” already available, which included the ability to:

  • drive the implementation of the Australian and Queensland Curriculum;
  • adopt a range of curricula;
  • plan the school’s learning program including setting flexible school hours;
  • offer differentiated learning programs;
  • determine the timing of their student free days;
  • determine their staffing with endorsement from local workplace committees;
  • recruit non-teaching staff;
  • select their own deputy principals and heads of department when vacancies occur;
  • select casual and temporary teachers through departmental processes;
  • manage minor maintenance and minor capital works projects up to $100 000;
  • manage school utilities and retain savings;
  • expend the school bank account to a maximum of $250 000; and
  • sign or vary contracts with procurement approval and dispose of plant and equipment up to the expenditure delegation.

However, an IPS would have additional autonomies to ‘embrace enhanced innovation’ in order to ‘better respond to the unique potential of their students and communities’ (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012a, p. 6). Queensland Premier Campbell Newman claimed the initiative would ‘cut red tape’ and ‘remove layers of management’ (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012a, p. 2). The IPS program was regulatory change.

The prospectus specified that additional autonomies would include:

  • the freedom to directly recruit staff and to build a team that is fit-for-purpose to drive innovation;
  • more autonomy to manage and utilise infrastructure, financial resources and human resources;
  • more autonomy to work in new ways with local businesses, industry and other community organisations;
  • an option to pursue creative models of sponsorship, industry partnerships and infrastructure partnerships;
  • increased flexibility to shape curriculum offerings; and
  • the freedom to shape and deliver innovative educational practices (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012a).

In addition to increased autonomy, schools accepted into the IPS program each received a $50,000 establishment grant, and $50,000 per annum designed to compensate the school for administrative functions previously undertaken by the Department (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012a). It has been well documented that increased school autonomy comes with a higher administrative burden for individual schools to manage (e.g. Whitty et al. 1998). Funding to offset this burden is a feature of the Western Australian IPS program, where schools received between $20,000 and $40,000 in transition funding depending on their size (Centre for Program Evaluation 2013). Case study evidence from the WA program suggests that the one-off grants left schools without the necessary financial resources in future years and this limited the school principal’s ability to innovate (Gobby 2013). Accordingly, the intention of the permanent level of funding in the Queensland program appears to be aimed at enabling schools to take full advantage of their increased autonomy.

In 2012, expressions of interest (‘EOI’) were sought from schools wanting to become an IPS for the following year. Of the applicants, 26 schools were accepted for 2013. A further 54 schools were added in 2014, along with a further 47 commencing in 2015 – a combined total of 127, exceeding the election promise of 120 schools over four years.

4. Method

This paper presents a qualitative analysis of primary data collected as part of the EOI process. The analysis involves a content analysis to identified proposed innovative practices and coding based on an adaption of Schumpeter’s five forms of innovation.

The EOI process required a written application. Amongst other things, the application required individual schools to outline the ‘innovative educational programs or practices that the school will implement’ if it is accepted as an IPS (‘Innovation Question’) (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012a, p. 10). The EOI process in 2014 and 2015 also required a response to the same question. Access to the Innovation Question responses for the applications for the 2013, 2014 and 2015 rounds was obtained by the author from the Queensland Department of Education under the Right to Information Act 2009 (QLD). In total, the responses to this question for EOI applications were examined for 127 schools.

The data identifies individual schools. This enabled categorising the school as a primary school, a secondary school, a P-12 college, or a special school – which then allows a comparison between those categories. The school principal was the signatory on each EOI. Drawing on our discussion of school autonomy, the school principal is best placed to provide details about perceived innovations because they have the decision-making autonomy under the IPS policy, and the school principal will be leading the implementation of innovative practices at the school level. In reporting the data, the names of the principals and the names of the individual schools have been omitted. We expect that principals’ responses to the Innovation Question to provide detail about the innovative practices that schools plan to implement as an IPS, and provide insight into the constraints of the current centralised service delivery framework. Evaluations of the Western Australian IPS program used surveys or interviews after the program had been implemented (Centre for Program Evaluation 2013; Gobby 2013). Surveys of school principals have also been used to gain insights in comparing innovativeness between charter schools and traditional public schools (e.g. Mintrom 2001). The data used in this study is unique in that it provides insight into the perceptions of school principals about the contemporary constraints on innovation, prior to the IPS system being implemented in that school.

The data calls for a textual analysis to be conducted. Following our conceptualisation of innovation we ask: whether the applicant school identified any innovative programs or practices that it would implement that it is not currently implementing; if so, what are these programs or practices; and how does the IPS program remove barriers to innovation experienced in the current centralised system. An innovative practice was observed if the principal identified something that was not currently being undertaken – or was being expanded to offer to a different category of students. An innovative practice was not observed if the principal identified something that would simply be continued under the IPS initiative.

Following a manual content analysis of the data, a system of coding was developed based on an adaption of Schumpeter’s five forms of innovation. Innovation practices identified were organised into the following broad categories: (1) new programs; (2) new methods (practices) of delivering programs; (3) new sources of supply; (4) new markets; and (5) new ways to organise service delivery. Subcategories were developed based on a preliminary examination of the data. This is a distinct attempt – noting our conception of innovation, and our ultimate interest in public sector innovation – on similar processes taken by Mintrom (2001) who arranged the data into five broad categories (school administration and management, curriculum, instructional techniques, use of technology, and the promotion of parental involvement), Preston et al. (2012) who categorise their data into four categories (staffing policies, academic support services, school organisational structures, and governance) and Lubienski (2003) who distinguishes between “educational”changes (practices regarding curricular content and instructional strategies with immediate impact at the classroom-level), and “administrative”changes (organisation-level practices and structural designs that do not directly affect classroom techniques or content).

New programs encompass both professional development programs for staff, academic programs for students – including literacy and numeracy, recovery and extension, extra-curricular activities such as sport and music, languages other than English, or vocational or employment pathways. A new method refers to new curriculum developments, or using ICT. New sources of supply include partnerships with business, industry, research institutes or universities, or other schools. New markets are, for example, programs for parents or other community groups – rather than existing students, using marketing programs to target new enrolments, and leasing or licensing out the school’s facilities to other community groups. Finally, new ways to organise service delivery include measures around staffing flexibility such as restructuring, reallocating or recruiting staff, the employment of support staff, school timetabling, instituting a multi-campus, and actions around the school’s buildings, maintenance or infrastructure.

5. Results

Overall the results show that Queensland’s IPS initiative will foster innovation, according to principal’s perceptions about the innovative practices they will be able to implement as an IPS. The textual analysis conducted based on Schumpeter’s five forms of innovative practices is presented here in two ways and supplemented by drawing directly from the text of the EOI applications.

First, Table 1 reports the average number of innovative practices observed. The results are broken down into the form of innovative practice, commencement year, and school type.

Table 1: Average number of proposed innovative practices, by category, school type and year

School Type (Number) New programs New methods New supply New markets New organisation Total
State School (9) 2 1.11 1.22 0.33 1.55 6.22
State High School (13) 2.23 1 2.54 0.54 1.77 8.08
State College (2) 1.5 0.5 1.5 1 2 6.5
Special/Other (2) 1.5 1 2.5 0 1.5 6.5
All types 2.04 1 2 0.46 1.69 7.19
State School (31) 2.29 0.68 1.68 0.55 1.35 6.55
State High School (17) 2.88 0.35 2.24 0.29 1.53 7.29
State College (5) 2.8 0.8 1.6 0 1.2 6.4
Special/Other (1) 1 0 0 1 0 2
All types 2.5 0.57 1.81 0.43 1.37 6.69
State School (37) 2.84 0.92 2.3 0.51 1.62 8.19
State High School (7) 2.86 0.29 2.14 0.29 1.14 6.71
State College (1) 3 3 0 0 0 6
Special/Other (2) 0.5 0.5 2 0 1 4
All types 2.74 0.85 2.21 0.45 1.49 7.74

Table 1 shows that proposed innovative practices were most observed in the new programs and new sources of supply categories, although there are slight variations in the observations over the three-year period – and this was true of all school types except for Special/Other. However, the number of proposed innovation practices does vary with school type over the three years. For instance, there is a reduction over time in the average number of proposed innovative practices in State High Schools from 8.08 in 2013, to 7.29 in 2014, and to 6.71 in 2013. Meanwhile, State Schools increased from an average 6.22 in 2013, to 6.55 in 2014, and to 8.19 in 2015.

Table 1 also shows that for State Schools and State High Schools more innovative practices were proposed for the new programs category, followed by new methods of supply, new organisation, and new methods of delivering services, with new markets being the least common.

The second way that the textual analysis is presented is by providing further detail on the type of the proposed innovative practices. The breadth of these practices falling within each category were summarised in the previous section. Table 2 shows the frequency of schools proposing a particular type of practice in its written application (expressed as a percentage of the count). As an example of how to interpret this data, innovative practices relating to extra-curricular activities were present in 19 percent of all successful 2013 applications.

Table 2: Distribution of proposed innovative practices, by year 

Proposed Innovative Practice 2013 2014 2015
New Programs      
Academic Support Services – Disadvantaged/Underachieving 12% 19% 15%
Academic Support Services – High Achieving/Extension 19% 26% 26%
Academic Support Services – Literacy and numeracy 15% 9% 28%
Academic Support Services – Others 15% 20% 23%
Extra-Curricular  (incl. sport, music, others) 19% 19% 26%
Language Immersion 8% 6% 0%
LOTE program 8% 7% 11%
Professional Development – ICT 4% 0% 0%
Professional Development – Mentoring/coaching 12% 22% 36%
Professional Development – Other 23% 44% 55%
Professional Development – Subject specific 12% 4% 4%
Vocational Education/Employment Pathways 27% 19% 4%
New Methods      
Curriculum 62% 20% 34%
ICT 27% 35% 40%
New Supply      
Business/Industry Partnership 38% 28% 26%
Community Partnership 54% 44% 45%
Research/University Partnership 38% 43% 36%
School Partnership (incl. international) 38% 46% 60%
New Markets      
External Accreditation 0% 2% 4%
Lease/License of School’s Facilities 15% 17% 4%
Marketing/Parent Engagement 23% 24% 26%
Outside Hours School Care 4% 0% 0%
New Organisation      
Buildings/Maintenance/Infrastructure 35% 19% 11%
Employment of Support Staff 35% 24% 45%
Hours of school 8% 7% 13%
Multi-campus 12% 2% 2%
Teaching staffing flexibility (incl. restructure, reallocation, recruitment) 46% 67% 60%
Timetabling 8% 7% 2%

  1. New programs

The data shows that the IPS program encourages schools to propose new programs that are responsive to the needs of their students. Table 1 indicates that schools propose to adopt an average of between 2.04 and 2.74 new programs over the application period. The data revealed eight distinct categories of proposed programs for students, and four distinct categories of professional development programs – detailed in Table 2.

The applications reveal a strong link between staffing flexibility and the ability to create new academic programs. For instance, a State High School in Brisbane stated that it was currently exploring becoming a pilot school for a new history program, and noted that ‘due to the specialist nature of the course content, staffing flexibility would greatly benefit and support this innovative program’ (2013 application). Similarly, a State High School in Brisbane’s outer suburbs indicated that full-time-equivalent flexibilities would enable it to ‘initiate a tutorial model for students in identified areas of need’ (2014 application). A strong connection between partnerships and new programs can also be observed – discussed further below.

There is also evidence of a similar link between staffing flexibility and the ability to provide innovative professional development programs. For example, the Principal of a State School in Brisbane’s outer suburbs stated that:

…a ‘one size fits all’ model of professional learning is out-dated and largely ineffectual. Our plan is to design a differential program of professional learning … To do this we require resource flexibility and enhancement. IPS will free us up to allow this to happen. (2014 application)

An interesting observation from another Brisbane State School was that it proposed a program that would replace an existing program (2015 application). A question for future research is why we do not see more schools innovating by removing ineffective programs (see: Potts 2010).

The applications did not reveal any instance of a school being prohibited from implementing a new program due to any specific regulatory constraint. This finding is expected, given the existing autonomies that the schools have under the current system. However, the lack of innovation in programming was more than simply having to make trade-offs. It appears that staffing inflexibility – policies and procedures imposed on schools – are restraining schools’ ability to offer additional programs. This point is expanded under the discussion of new organisation.

  2. New methods

Next, we examine new methods of delivering existing programs. On average schools proposed to implement one innovative practice (2013) or less (2014, 2015) from this category. Curriculum development and the use of Information Communications and Technology (ICT) were the two forms of proposed innovation practices observed. Curriculum innovations presented in 62 per cent of applications in 2013, but dropped to 20 per cent and 34 per cent in 2014 and 2015, respectively.  The proposed use of ICT increased, from 27 per cent of applications in 2014, to 35 per cent and 40 per cent in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

The ability to hire specific staff with specific skills and experiences – rather than relying on the central system – was a key driver of proposed innovative practices in this category. For example, the use of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program was something that presented in several applications. The use of this curriculum is not prohibited through regulation, but there would be transaction costs in changing or offering it as an alternative – which are mitigated if schools are able to recruit appropriate staff. The Principal of a State School in South-East Queensland stated, ‘as an IPS school, [the school] could attract and retain staff with IB teaching experiences to strengthen the workforce capability and improve student learning outcomes by implementing and inquiry approach to learning’ (2015 application).  The Principal of a State High School in Brisbane’s inner suburbs noted that it was already an IB world school, but increased staffing flexibility meant that it would be able to extend the program to its middle years (2014 application).

The use of ICT was found to enhance partnerships and academic programs. For example, a State School in the Gold Coast proposed video-conferencing with its sister school in Japan (2015 application) while a State School in suburban Brisbane proposed extension opportunities for gifted students through a video link to a local State High School (2015 application).

  3. New supply

Forming new partnerships were a major feature of many applications. This finding is expected, given the emphasis placed on such partnerships in the IPS prospectus. On average, the applications indicated that it would form more than one partnership. Of these, partnerships with other schools were the most popular, followed by community groups, universities and business/industry.

Partnerships provide the school with access to specialised knowledge and skills that it would otherwise not have access to. The partnerships mean that programs such as ‘specialist programs to maximise safety and enhance wellbeing for children and young people with disabilities’ (2013 application), ‘Early Childhood Transition Program between local Kindergartens and the school’ (a State School, 2014 application), and sporting programs like a ‘Centre of Excellence in Golf’ are able to be established (State School, 2013 application). One State College noted that increased autonomy would allow it from taking up an offer from a university to expand an existing program into chemistry, biology, and environmental/marine sciences (2014 application).

These partnerships may provide schools with future revenue streams, when combined with innovations around buildings and facilities. For instance, a State School in Brisbane’s outer suburbs proposes to construct an Aquatic Centre to service the school and the local community, and plans to approach other community groups to use the school’s performing arts centre in return for student scholarships and training (2014 application).

The applications reveal that existing regulation and bureaucratic decision making are preventing schools of establishing innovative partnerships. For example, the Principal of a State School on the Gold Coast explained the transaction costs: ‘currently, we are limited in being able to pursue a higher level of community involvement as this requires time to seek, negotiate, develop and sustain’ (2015 application).  A Brisbane State School principal stated, similarly, that as an IPS it would be able to establish partnerships ‘…without the current level of red tape and approval by Education Queensland’ (2014 application).

  4. New markets

Schools identified opportunities that would expand services to new and different consumer groups. On average, less than one innovative practice was observed per school each year, although approximately one quarter of schools identified marketing and parent engagement opportunities throughout the application period.

In relation to parental engagement, one proposed innovative practice was providing courses to parents to address their educational needs to enable them to better assist in their children’s education. For example, A Gold Coast State High School proposed literacy and numeracy short course (2013 application), and a nearby State School proposed making the school’s ICT training program available to ‘up skill parents in the applications necessary for students to access on-line learning’ (2015 application). These proposals were assisted by the flexibility around school hours and staffing. Other applications focused on the IPS branding, which itself would make the school more attractive to parents with children in the private-education market segment. The Principal of a Brisbane State School commented that ‘Similar to our main competitors in the independent school arena, there will be an increased ability and perception within the community that we have a status that makes us even more desirable as the choice of the child’s primary school education provider’ (2015 application).

The other commonly observed form of proposed innovative practice under this category was leasing or licensing the School’s facilities. Fifteen per cent of schools nominated this in the 2013 applications and 17 per cent of schools in 2014 – however, this dropped to 4 per cent in the 2015 round. On the face of the applications it was unclear why this had dropped – particularly as the IPS prospectus noted that schools will have greater autonomy over facilities. One possibility is that schools are leasing out their facilities already. For example, the Principal of an outer Brisbane State School noted that ‘our facilities are used extensively by short and long-term Hirers’ (2014 application). Similarly, another outer Brisbane State School indicated that it already had shared facility agreements in place (2014 application), a State High School in Townsville leases its swimming pool to the local municipality (2014 application) and a State Secondary College had a public-private partnership in place for facilities management which it was able to do because it was a new school (2013 application).

Nevertheless, there is evidence that increased autonomy will enable schools to realise this possibility by lowering transaction costs of dealing with the government department. One example is a State High School on the Gold Coast, whose principal stated that the school ‘currently provides extensive facility access to external organisations but has been limited. IPS will provide greater flexibility to negotiate long term and facilities development agreements with these partners’ (2013 application).

  5. New organisation

New forms of organisation presented as the third-most observed proposed innovative practice, with schools nominating between one and two practices (1.37-1.69), on average, that they would undertake if admitted to the IPS program. It is significant because this category includes staffing flexibility – of which 46 per cent of applicants in 2013, 67 per cent in 2014 and 60 per cent in 2015, indicated that they would be able to utilise as an IPS.

We have previously noted the link between staffing flexibility and new academic support programs, staff development programs, and the ability to recruit specialised staff. A key submission from schools was that staffing flexibility would allow for educational staff to spend more time on student-focused activities. For instance, the Principal of a regional State School contended that ‘by becoming an IPS, we will have the autonomy to create a [Business Service Manager] position, which is currently not allocated for in our staffing model. This will enable the [Principal], [Head of Special Education Services] and curriculum leaders to focus on the priority of improving student outcomes with the BSM taking on management of the school’s business, facilities and HR’ (2013 application). Between 24 and 45 percent of schools, depending on the year, noted that as an IPS they proposed hiring of support staff to supplement the teaching staff. A Brisbane State School proposed hiring a ‘data coach’ (2013 application) as just one example. This is significant because the prospectus notes schools already had the ability to recruit non-teaching staff (Queensland Department of Education and Training 2012a). The autonomy to do this may be limited in practice as the applications evidence that recruiting non-teaching staff is being constrained under the centralised model of service delivery. For instance, the Principal of a Gold Coast State School observes that:

As a non-IPS school we have been hindered by ‘red-tape’ during our attempts to appoint quality staff to fill roles such as Coach, Head of Curriculum/Curriculum Coordinator and G&T Coordinator…Being an IPS will enable us more strategically and creatively model our staffing structure to meet student needs. (2015 application)

Likewise, An outer suburban State School Principal lamented ‘unfortunately, traditional models of governance have previously meant that innovation is dependent on fluctuating staffing allocation and point in time funding’, explaining that, in 2013, this lead to the loss of a staff member that ran a new reading program due to insufficient flexible staffing and funding (2015 application).  The same school cited staffing flexibility as a limitation on the ability to provide staff with adequate professional development opportunities. A Brisbane State High School principal provided an example in 2013 where ‘an experienced IPT teacher retired mid-year and could not be replaced through existing mechanisms’ (2014 application). The Principal of a State High School in Townsville also noted the costs, stating ‘the current uncertainty and red tape surrounding teaching appointments would be removed when we are able to make direct applications and appointments ourselves…’ (2013 application).  The Principal of a State High School in South-east Queensland warned of the ‘drift of the most effective teachers to the non-government sector’ (2013 application) unless processes were streamlined.

Consistent with autonomy theory, there is evidence that increased flexibility allows innovative practices for school organisational structure. For example, a Brisbane State School proposed introducing middle-management in the form of year-level coordinators (2013 application). Innovation of this type is already taking place. For example, a regional State High School had already created Head of Department positions and reallocated administrative work, but its application highlighted a potential roadblock for this happening in other schools under the centralised system. The school noted that these changes required the approval of its Local Consultation Committee – which exists as part of the enterprise bargaining framework (see: Department of Education, Training and Employment State School Teachers’ Certified Agreement 2012, discussed in Stanley et al. 2014). Other school’s committees may not be open to these changes, which may explain why this innovation has been constrained in the past. This requirement may also explain why flexibility around school hours did not feature heavily in applications.

Flexibility does not necessarily mean increased teaching loads. Indeed, a State School on the Gold Coast envisaged that ‘additional [non-contact time] will be provided to teachers’ (2015 application) – in that case, to allow teachers to engage in assessment task design and moderation processes with other schools in the area to ‘enhance the transition to junior secondary’ (2015 application).

Let us now turn to buildings, facilities and maintenance. These forms of proposed innovation practices within the new organisation category was evident on 35 per cent of applications in 2013, before falling to 19 per cent and 11 per cent in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The evidence is that the autonomy of self-management will yield efficiency dividends. A Brisbane State High School complained that a submission had been sitting with Education Queensland facilities for some time (2013 application). A principal of a regional State High School noted that buildings and facilities development was occurring in an ‘ad hoc’ fashion, additionally ‘capital works requests currently take too long to be actioned’ and under this new IPS model this school would be able to move much more effectively on those proposals (2013 application). In summary, the IPS will enable ‘direct transparent resourcing to the school without regional interference…’ according to the principal of another Brisbane State High School (2014 application).

A final theme is the link between hours of the school and other program offerings. As the Principal of a Brisbane High School explains, ‘early starts and later finishes (allow) for greater access to curriculum programs and flexible programs for vocational programs and parent engagement…. The school will provide additional sporting options for students outside of school hours. Currently no interschool sport is organised or played on a regular basis for students in year 11-12.’ (2014 application).

6. Conclusion

The examination of the EOI applications for the first three years (2013-2015) of the Queensland IPS program has shown that the initiative will foster innovation in public education service delivery, according to the perceptions of individual school principals. The study observed a range of proposed innovative practices, arranged in the discussion on an adaption of Schumpeter’s five forms of innovation. The study revealed that staffing flexibility and autonomy around recruitment were integral to fostering a range of innovative practices beyond the category of new forms of organisation itself. The study provides evidence that the current centralised service delivery model is constraining innovation, not only with respect to staffing flexibility, but in schools forming partnerships, in leasing and licensing out its facilities, and in managing its buildings, facilities and infrastructure. In this regard, the paper’s findings are consistent with the theory of school autonomy.

By advancing a unique method, this paper provides a future ability to track perceived and planned innovations, and investigate whether these have been implemented. In making an empirical contribution, this paper identifies and analyses a dataset which enables tracking of specific public sector innovation activity over time – militating against measurement issues generally associated with this area of research (Potts and Kastelle, 2010; Arundel and Huber 2013). The discussion of the results highlighted other issues that are worthy of further research, such as the extent to which IPS schools are being constrained by provisions in public sector enterprise bargaining agreements. This is important because these constraints may undermine the aims of the IPS initiative, as staffing flexibility is central to many of the proposed innovative practices observed.

The findings of this paper have broader implications for public sector innovation research that are applicable to other public sector services. First, the IPS program was regulatory change and the results provide preliminary evidence of a positive correlation between deregulation and public sector innovation. That is, higher levels of public sector innovation will be observed where individual service units (e.g. schools) are given greater autonomy to be responsive to their consumers (e.g. students) and where the dynamic process of developing new combinations of resources is less constrained.

Second, the current regulatory constraints of the centralised service delivery that we have observed appear to fall within the “red tape” category, and higher transaction costs that undermined principals’ capacity to implement innovative ideas were observed rather than direct prohibitions. This opens up a potential avenue of inquiry for future directions of public sector innovation scholarship with the transaction cost literature (Williamson 2005).

Third, it was noted that decentralising public services could take many forms – yet the public sector innovation literature surveyed appears to take the cost of bureaucracy as a constant. Advancing our understanding of the impact of regulatory structures on innovation in public service delivery comes at putting the regulatory and institutional structures at the start of the story – rather than as one factor among many. An institutional approach to analysis would be a way forward in this regard. For instance, comparisons could be made with similar programs such as the Western Australian IPS program (Centre for Program Evaluation 2013; Gobby 2013) – and other school autonomy programs such as Charter Schools that have a much longer history. The conclusion that can be drawn from this discussion is that removal of regulatory constraints was the impetus for planned public sector innovation within the school context.


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