Use of most significant change in evaluating school cultures in South Australia

This is a summary of the example of how most significant change (MSC) was used to measure “perceptions of ‘significant change’ in school cultures in South Australia” (Cornu et al 2006)

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Most Significant Change was used for the evaluation of the Learning to Learn (L2L) initiative in South Australia. L2L aimed at achieving teacher learning and curriculum policy change based around the central question of  ‘What does it mean to educate for a future that matters?’ The project was funded by the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services.

L2L provided schools with funding to send their school leaders and groups of teachers to a Core Learning Program that connected them to the latest educational research and theory about learning, critical reflection and whole-school redesign. These aimed to stimulate site-wide transformations in learning culture and opportunities and outcomes for teachers and students. Principals, designated change leaders, project managers, Departmental Curriculum officers and university colleagues through Learning Circles encompassing between 6-8 sites further supported school leaders and teachers.

MSC was used in Learning Circles, along with a range of other data collection techniques as a learning process. MSC was chosen as a means of collecting rich, qualitative data, and also as a means of value clarification for participants individually and for the development of collective indicators of significant change.

The project evaluation was based on a secondary analysis of MSC data and the paper presents the result of those findings. The evaluation used two rounds of stories from three Learning Circles – approximately 70 stories in total.

In the first round, participants were invited to write a story about significant change as a result of their involvement in L2L, answering the questions of ‘What happened?’ and ‘Why do you think this is significant?’. In the second round another question was added, ‘What evidence do you have?’.

The secondary analysis involved the examination, classification and analysis of the content across a set of Significant Change stories. The evaluators used a content analysis approach where documents were read and divided into meaningful units. These were then coded and categorized into key themes:

  • Changes in Learning Culture
  • Changes in Professional Identities
  • Changes in Practice
  • Changes in Outcomes for Students

Evaluation findings

Changes in Learning Culture: L2L resulted in significant changes to the cultures of participating schools. Participants recorded changes in access to resources and learning opportunities, collegial relationships and shared understandings of the need for change.

Changes in Professional Identities: L2L facilitated reinterpretation of values and experiences by participating teachers. Stories highlighted the role of emotions in these changes and in particular, teachers’ feelings of discomfort.

Changes in Practice: Stories from the second round reported changes in teaching practice. Participants described changes being implemented in classrooms, at sub-school and school level.

Changes in Outcomes for Students: Stories from the second round also focused more strongly on perceived changes in outcomes for students – improvements in student engagement and well-being and student achievement.

The secondary analysis of the stories revealed not only participants’ perceptions about what constitutes significant change but also how this change occurred.

The L2L program itself was assessed as being successful in achieving its outcomes, as reported by the participants themselves. The two elements that were most crucial in achieving these outcomes were immersion and engagement. Leaders and teachers were immersed in extended learning opportunities for deep reflection about their educative purposed and craft – moving beyond ‘the doing’ to include ‘the thinking’. Leaders and teachers were engaged through a challenge to their assumptions, beliefs, values and understandings that underpinned their practice. Participants were engaged in ‘learning conversations’ where they negotiated new meanings and deeper levels of understanding. Teachers were provided with both challenge and support as necessary to facilitate change.


Cornu, R. L, Peters, J., Foster, M., Barratt, R. and Stratfold, J. (2006) “Perceptions of ‘Significant Change’ in School Cultures in South Australia” from the International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management, Volume 6, Number 5, 2006. Can be purchased through