Chapter 3. Into the future: Preserving holistic education and school-community relationships

This chapter analyses Japan’s unique system of holistic education and explores ways to sustain it to both support curriculum reform and respond to challenges in the areas of socio-demographic change, student well-being and teacher workload.

Japan has targeted efforts in the area of school management and school-community partnerships to support its holistic approach, in which schools engage students in practices such as serving lunch, working together to clean their school or providing extracurricular activities. International evidence points to the role school-community partnerships and effective management structures and leadership can play in enhancing school outcomes, but it also points to potential inequalities when such additional services are not supported for the more disadvantaged.

To effectively sustain the holistic model, Japan should enhance school organisation by ensuring effective school management teams and leadership and should clarify the focus of school-community partnerships. To prevent and mitigate potential inequalities, Japan should support partnerships with disadvantaged communities as an alternative to shadow education.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

Context and main features

Japanese school education is about to undergo extensive reforms to improve the type of learning in which students engage. In conjunction with these reforms, there are efforts to improve the quality and management of schools and build more effective school-community partnerships. These initiatives could be ways to support the holistic approach to education, respond to sustainability and teacher workload challenges, nurture student competency and promote student well-being.

The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) suggests that three-quarters of lower secondary teachers in Japan already work in schools where principals report high levels of co-operation between their school and the local community (Figure 3.1). The Japanese government has launched a series of initiatives to further strengthen the existing partnerships and to respond to demographic and social challenges, the need to develop new skills and the heavy teacher workload, including:

  • establishing the Community Co-operation Network for Learning and Education to promote activities in which communities and schools co-operate

  • developing school management councils that include community representatives

  • introducing specialist staff such as counsellors in schools as part of the Team Gakkou [school as a team] initiative.

Figure 3.1. School-community co-operation in lower secondary schools, 2013
Percentage of lower secondary education teachers whose school principal reports that there is a high level of co-operation between the school and the local community

Notes: Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Source: OECD (2014[1]), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, OECD Publishing, Paris,, Table 2.22.


These practices and partnerships could significantly contribute to supporting the holistic approach to education in Japan. Community partners can bring new or additional resources to schools, enrich and support school staff, enhance parental engagement and complement the curriculum through mentoring or providing links to local communities. They can also offer students opportunities to address social and environmental problems or community needs. But this will only occur if reforms are designed with a view to supporting holistic education, interact seamlessly with other reforms across the system and are effectively implemented.

Strengths and challenges

Sustainability of holistic education, a key objective for the education system

An objective of many efforts to improve school-community relationships is to create a more well-rounded or holistic education for students. For many years, Japan has built and leveraged a unique model of holistic education. It forms the springboard and a solid base on which to build and reinforce management and school-community partnerships.

The OECD review team observes that teaching in Japanese schools takes a holistic approach that is not limited to academic content, with students involved in a broad range of activities. To achieve this, schools engage in practices not seen in schools in most other parts of the OECD, such as serving their own lunches and working together to clean the school. These activities build a shared responsibility for the quality of the school and for education overall. In addition, schools conduct numerous extracurricular activities in academic, sporting, musical and other pursuits. These activities can lead to long school days for students, but they create schools that offer much more than traditional academic subjects, schools that develop the values and competencies that are increasingly required to nurture 21st century skills.

The transversal role adopted by teachers and the partnerships with communities have created the opportunity to strengthen the holistic model of education in Japanese schools. For example, through extracurricular activities, mentoring and academic support, these partnerships directly anchor the school in its local community, and help students develop strong ties to it. But societal and labour market changes, such as the sharp demographic decline in Japan and the rise in non-regular employment (refers usually to workers who do not enjoy employment security), could lead to significant changes in Japanese communities and weaken their contribution to the holistic model. Teachers’ long working hours and the low level of leadership exerted by school principals (see next section) could also jeopardise how well schools are equipped to preserve the holistic features of education, especially at a time when a significant curriculum reform calls into question the traditional model of Japanese education. These limitations highlight not only the need for reforms and effective implementation, but also the opportunity to promote school-community partnerships as a response to the new challenges.

Distributed leadership and heavy workload for teaching staff

School leaders

According to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the most effective schools are associated to principals who define, communicate and build consensus around the school’s education goals, ensure that the curriculum and instructional practices are aligned with these goals, work to enhance teacher collaboration and development, and foster healthy social relationships within the school’s community (OECD, 2016[2]).

There is abundant evidence on the positive and indirect influence of school leaders on student outcomes (Robinson, Rowe and Lloyd, 2009[23]; Hallinger, 2014[24]; Branch, Hanushek and Rivkin, 2012[25]). Increasing empirical and international evidence suggests that, after the role of teachers, school leadership is key in establishing the environment for effective teaching and learning, leading schools and collaborating with and supporting teachers and the school community (Hattie, 2015[26]; Leithwood and Louis, 2011[27]; Robinson, Rowe and Lloyd, 2009[23]; Hallinger, 2014[24]). A study on the impact of school leaders in Texas by Branch, Hanushek and Rivkin (2012[25]) found that effective principals improve the results of all students in the school, and this effect increases with poverty rate. Furthermore, investing in school leadership appears to be an efficient policy investment, with a large multiplying effect, since school leaders have an indirect but significant effect on schooling, teachers, students and the educational community.

In Japan, the role of the school leader is diffused, and teachers take on greater responsibilities than in other countries, for example, in terms of instructional practices. Japan is a good illustration of the concept of distributed leadership, as detailed by Pont et al. (2008[3]).

International surveys led by the OECD cast light on the low-profile role endorsed by lower secondary school leaders in Japan. In PISA 2015, Japan scores the lowest on the index of instructional leadership (OECD, 2016[2]). It also scores in the last decile of the index of professional development leadership and teachers’ participation leadership. According to self-reported data from the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), Japanese school principals are less likely than their peers in other OECD countries to support teachers to improve their instruction (Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2. Engagement in instructional leadership in lower secondary education, 2016
Percentage of lower secondary education principals who report having engaged “often” or “very often” in the following instructional leadership activities during the 12 months prior to the study

Source: OECD (2016[4]), School Leadership for Learning: Insights from TALIS 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,, Figure 3.1.

Therefore, the amount of change required in schools due to the curriculum reform may be a direct challenge for school leaders who exert limited decision-making authority. Fashioning schools to undertake curricular reform, while preserving the holistic model creatively and strengthening school-community partnerships, requires effective school leaders who have the capability, mind-set, and power to drive school practices. In addition, there is a high turnover rate for school principals: between 3 and 5 years for upper secondary principals and 2.9 years for primary and lower secondary principals. (MEXT, 2011[5]) This frequent turnover, decided at the prefecture level according to the situation of schools and regions, limits the long-term prospects of school leaders in individual schools and constrains bonding initiatives between schools and communities, with potentially long-lasting effects.

However, all prefecture boards of education and most municipality boards implement leadership training. In addition to this territorial network of leadership training, the National Institute for School Teachers and Staff Development defines and implements leadership training for school leaders recommended by prefecture boards of education. This ensures homogeneity of training across the country.

On the resource side, Japanese school leaders may not have the scope to change their school to better use the features of the local community. PISA data suggest that only 28% of the allocation of school resources depends on principals in Japan (compared to the average of 39% in OECD countries) (OECD, 2016[2]). This can prevent principals from further developing partnerships or lead them to rely on superficial ties with the local community.


According to TALIS data, lower secondary teachers in Japan work more hours per week (54 hours) than any other teachers across participating countries (compared to the TALIS average of 38 hours) (Figure 3.3). But the amount of time they spend teaching (17.7 hours) is below the TALIS average (19.3 hours). As previously stated, this is because teachers in Japan contribute more than the average in leadership activities, such as participation in general administrative work (2.6 hours per week more than the TALIS average) or in school management (1.5 hours more per week) (OECD, 2014[1]). Japanese teachers especially stand out from their counterparts in the time they invest in extracurricular activities (7.7 hours, compared to the TALIS average of 2.1 hours) on tasks that are potentially strongly related to links with community (OECD, 2014[1]).

In Japan, the number of students who require extra support is increasing, and special needs education is an emerging issue. For instance, between 2004 and 2014, the number of students with Japanese citizenship who require Japanese-language support has more than doubled (an increase of 152%) (MEXT, 2016[6]). In addition, the forecast decline in the teaching labour force linked to demographic trends (MEXT, 2017[7]) may further exacerbate tensions concerning teachers’ long working hours if the number of teachers were to decrease due to high levels of retirement.

Figure 3.3. Working hours of lower secondary education teachers, 2013

Source: OECD (2014[1]), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning, OECD Publishing, Paris,, Table 6.12.


In that sense, transitioning into a new curriculum and sustaining the holistic education model should take into account the burden teachers are already carrying, between teaching, lesson planning, student and parent relations, and organising extracurricular activities. Finding arrangements and structures that can alleviate the burden, including having additional staff, such as teachers and/or administrative staff, and partnering with communities to organise extracurricular activities could help teachers to focus on the curriculum reform.

Multiple reforms attesting to strong political will

A number of reforms are underway to strengthen school-community partnerships and complement existing programs. The objectives of these reforms include:

  • strengthening both schools and communities through effective partnerships,

  • maintaining the holistic approach to children’s education with support from the community,

  • reducing work-loads and responsibilities for teachers and schools through partnerships that leverage greater engagement from parents and the community.

This requires revising and changing how schools operate and, particularly, how teachers work in schools. New roles will be created, and the responsibilities of teachers will have to change, at least to some extent. School leadership will have to evolve to develop and sustain school-community partnerships as part of the mandate. To be effective, school leaders and teachers will have to leverage their knowledge and understanding of students and their families.

Three reforms in particular aim to make the shifts required for effective school-community partnerships:

  1. Team Gakkou [school as a team], a new reform that will change school management structures and operations,

  2. the creation of community schools with new school councils that have been slowly implemented over the last decade or so,

  3. Chiiki Gakkou Kyoudou Honbu, a collaborative network designed to promote collaboration between schools and local communities.

Team Gakkou

A reform of school management called Team Gakkou (school as a team) is in process to enhance a school management structure that can broaden leadership capacities to respond to diversified school issues. It proposes the establishment of a team system based on expertise, strengthening of the management function of schools and improvements to support teachers on issues of human resource development, health and training (Central Council for Education, 2015[8]). The development of Team Gakkou could consolidate a structure of school management that clarifies the role of principals and teachers and provides additional staff to support teachers and schools in the promotion of holistic education. By promoting role sharing between teaching staff and specialist staff as a team under the leadership of school principals, the teaching staff can focus more on guidance to students (MEXT, 2016[6]; Kurokawa, 2017[9]).

The term Team Gakkou was first advocated by the Headquarters for the Revitalisation of Education, an advisory body of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, in its proposal in May 2013. The Headquarters proposed “increasing schools’ team power and allowing teachers to focus on students’ education” by: 1) reorganising schools into more hierarchical organisations; 2) promoting smaller class sizes and deploying staff for specialised subjects, special education and the issue of bullying; 3) introducing 300 000 external personnel for specialised subjects, ethics education, club activities and instruction during weekends; 4) enhancing school-community partnerships; 5) redefining teachers’ responsibilities and mobilising administrative staff; and 6) strengthening the distribution of leadership within schools.

Following this, in a report submitted in July 2014, the Council for the Implementation of Education Rebuilding at the Cabinet Secretariat (the Prime Minister’s Office) also proposed enhancing schools’ administrative systems, and establishing a system that allows deployment of specialist staff, such as school counsellors and school social workers (Kurokawa, 2017[9]). At that time, the Central Council for Education was also consulted on what should be Team Gakkou and school staff’s responsibilities for future education. In September 2014, a working group was set up to answer these two questions.

In the budget for fiscal year 2015, MEXT allocated funds for school management functions in order to: 1) increase the placement of senior teachers in leadership positions; 2) improve staffing levels of teachers and other personnel including the deployment of school librarians, ICT experts, and other staff with specialist knowledge; 3) deploy more school counsellors and school social workers; and 4) make use of assistants to support learning and external mentors for sport activities.

In December 2015, the Central Council for Education proposed actions to address the issues of teachers’ challenges and their working conditions, in a report entitled School as a Team: Improvement Measures. It proposed organising a framework necessary to realise Team Gakkou by allocating the teachers, personnel, and staff specialising in mental care, welfare and other relevant fields, and by improving schools’ management functions (MEXT, 2016[6]).

In January 2016, MEXT announced the Plan for Creation of Next-Generation School and Communities, which included a proposal to reform the management structure of schools by: 1) increasing teaching staff; 2) establishing a team with school counsellors, school social workers, club activity advisors, nurses and special education staff; and 3) enhancing schools’ managerial functions by introducing more middle managers and increasing administrative staff. Since the announcement of the Plan, the government has been revising laws and regulations to implement the initiative.

Community schools

In Japan, the term Community Schools is used to refer to public schools with school management councils. The Community School programme (the school management council system) is a framework designed to transform conventional schools into community-based schools that can be managed by teachers, local residents, parents, and other relevant parties working together. Adopting this system is expected to enable schools to reflect local residents’ views and opinions in school management, thereby developing schools with distinctive features that reflect the creativity of local communities (MEXT, 2005[10]; MEXT, 2011[11]; MEXT, 2016[6]; MEXT, 2016[12]; National Commission on Educational Reform, 2000[13]; Hayashizaki, 2008[14]).

The Community School was first proposed in 2000 by the National Commission on Educational Reform, an advisory body to the Prime Minister, in its report “17 Proposals for Changing Education” (National Commission on Educational Reform, 2000). The Commission proposed promoting the establishment of alternative schools, including Community Schools, which it defined as public schools that involve communities in school management to reflect specific needs unique to each community. Ikuyo Kaneko, a member of the Commission, conceptualised the model of Community School based on the school council/board system in England and charter schools in the United States (Hayashizaki, 2008[14]; MEXT, 2011[11]).

In 2004, the Law concerning Organisation and Functions of Local Education Administration was amended, and the school management council system (“Community Schools”) was established, enabling the participation of non-professionals education workers in school management (MEXT, 2005[10]). The School Management Councils, composed of parents, guardians and local residents, have the following three functions:

  • To approve basic policies on school management compiled by the principal: The School Management Council is involved in formulating policy designed to improve the school with the principal and teachers and other personnel.

  • To express opinions to boards of education or schools on matters concerning school management: The School Management Council is established as a consultative body in school management, and its members are therefore entitled to state their opinions on school management issues in general, not only on the school’s basic policy on education.

  • To express opinions to boards of education concerning the appointment of teachers and other personnel: The School Management Council is composed so as to be able to state its opinions directly to boards of education, which recruit teachers and other personnel, on personnel matters concerning teachers and other personnel.

Since the system began in 2004, the number of Community Schools has been increasing steadily. As of April 2016, 2 661 primary and lower secondary schools were operating as Community Schools. This represents 9% of public schools, with great variation across regions. Almost 100% of the schools in Yamaguchi Prefecture and 43% of schools in Kyoto Prefecture were Community Schools, while Fukui Prefecture has not yet introduced the system, and Community Schools constitute less than 1% of public schools in several other prefectures (MEXT, 2016[12]). In 2015, however, the Central Council for Education formulated a proposed law to make Community Schools mandatory for every municipality. The law was amended and implementation began in April 2017. In addition, MEXT also increased the budget for the support programme targeting cities and prefectures in order to promote the Community School policy.

There also are an increasing number of schools with other types of management councils that allow parents and community members to participate in school management. In 2016, there were 6 814 schools with such councils, including Community Schools, compared to 2 944 in 2012 (MEXT, 2016[12]).

Collaborative development network

The Community Co-operation Network for Learning and Education (Chiiki Gakkou Kyoudou Honbu), launched by MEXT in 2016, is a system designed to promote collaboration between schools and local communities and encourage local residents and organisations to participate in an open network. (MEXT, 2016[6]; MEXT, 2016[12]; MEXT, 2016[15]; MEXT, 2016[16]).

The Network is based on a number of previous projects, including the following:

  • The School Support Regional Headquarters initiative (Gakkou Shien Chiiki Honbu) was launched in 2008, with the aim of promoting the participation of local volunteers to support schools. The school support activities range from relatively easy tasks, such as patrolling school routes and tending school flower beds, to more systematic tasks, such as setting up a community centre within a school.

  • The Programme to Promote After-School Classes for Children (Houkago Kodomo Kyoushitsu) was launched in 2007 to provide children with learning support and opportunities for various hands-on activities after school, with participation of community members.

  • The Saturday Educational Activities project, launched in 2014, aims to provide children with educational activities on Saturdays, in partnership with community members and organisations.

  • The Community Tutoring School for the Future project (Chiiki Mirai Juku), launched in 2015, is community-based learning support for lower and upper secondary education students who need learning assistance.

Table 3.1. Implementation of MEXT’s school-community co-operation projects, 2016

FY 2012

FY 2013

FY 2014

FY 2015

FY 2016

National subsidies (in million JPY)

4 649

4 870

5 071

6 340

6 466

Number of School Support Regional Headquarters

3 036

3 527

3 746

4 146

4 527

Number of After-School Classes for Children

10 098

10 376

11 991

14 392

16 027

Number of schools providing Educational Activities on Saturdays



4 845

10 412

11 895

Number of Community Tutoring School for the Future (Chiiki Mirai Juku)




1 751

2 587

Source: MEXT (2016[15]), Gakkou, katei, chiiki no renkei kyouryoku suishin jigyou oyobi chiiki no yutakana shakai shigen o katsuyou shita doyoubi no kyouiku shien taisei tou kouchiku jigyou jisshi joukyou (Implementation status of the Promotion of Co-ordination and Collaboration among Schools, Families and Communities project and the Development of Educational Support System for Saturdays Based on Rich Social Resources of Communities project),

By 2016, around 10 000 of the 29 453 public mandatory education schools in Japan (19 974 primary schools and 9 479 lower secondary schools) were working with about 4 500 School Support Regional Headquarters across the country. About 16 000 After-School Classes for Children were conducted at public primary schools (Table 3.1). In addition, Saturday educational support activities, carried out with the help of local residents and companies or other organisations, are conducted at about 12 000 public primary, lower and upper secondary schools (MEXT, 2016[12]; MEXT, 2016[15]). The newly launched Community Co-operation Network for Learning and Education is expected to allow comprehensive co-ordination of school-support activities by local residents that have been provided independently (MEXT, 2016[6]).

PISA 2015 confirmed that Japan is one of the leading countries in providing additional support to students. In Japan, 96% of students attend a school that provides a homework room (compared to the OECD average of 74%), and 80% of students attend a school where school staff help with homework (compared to the OECD average of 60%). According to principals’ reports, 65% of students attend schools that offer extracurricular activities (compared to the OECD average of 57%). The most represented activities are, in descending order: sports, arts, volunteering and music activities (Table 3.2).

Table 3.2. Extracurricular activities offered at school, 2015
Extracurricular activities offered at school, 2015

Note: Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the percentage of students in schools offering extracurricular activities (average of the 10 activities). For readability purposes, the three less common activities (chess club, science club and clubs with a focus on computers) are not displayed here.

Source: adapted from OECD (2016[2]), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Policy recommendations: Focus school organisation and school-community partnerships on the curriculum reform and preserving holistic education

While a significant curriculum reform is underway in Japan, a different broad set of reforms has been introduced in all Japanese schools to support the holistic model of education and the teacher profession by fostering school-community partnerships: Team Gakkou, the creation of community schools and the development of a collaborative network between schools and local communities.

Selected studies suggest potential positive effects of school-community partnerships on outcomes for students, schools and communities (Blank, Melaville and Shah, 2003[17]; Heers et al., 2016[18]). But there has not been evidence indicating that investing in such partnerships is more efficient than implementing other types of school or teacher interventions for student learning.

While changes to school management or school-community partnerships are considered important, introducing changes concurrently to broader reforms such as curriculum can lead to challenges for adoption at the school level. Country practices suggest aligning such changes to facilitate reforms in curriculum and pedagogy or sequencing the introduction of new programmes (OECD, 2015[19]). From a strategic perspective, an important issue is how reforms in curriculum and pedagogy are prioritised and how they interact with school-community partnerships or enhancing school management.

The literature on school-community partnerships is diverse. For the most part, the link with students’ outcomes is ambiguous. The only clear message to be drawn is that introducing this type of partnership has high transaction costs (it is time-consuming and work-intensive), requires significant change in schools and impacts school leaders and teachers, as well as the communities it intends to target. Two further issues add to the complexity: long teacher working hours and the current role of school leadership in Japan.

Japanese teachers already work some of the longest hours in the OECD. The scope of the curriculum and school-community partnership reforms will increase pressure on teachers, even though some policy objectives are aimed at alleviating their burden. If teachers do not have enough time to be trained and assimilate the content of reforms, this can potentially dilute their impact.

In addition, the success of many of these reforms will depend on the abilities of school leaders to manage change and implement programmes effectively in schools. Relative to their international peers, Japanese school principals are currently less involved in key aspects of the kind of leadership required of them to make these reforms a success, and the high level of turnover could reduce their incentives to produce the optimal level of effort.

Given this, a number of policy options are proposed to help increase the effectiveness of efforts to improve school-community partnerships and broader reforms in Japanese education. In fact, much of the discussion below highlights the need to prioritise not only the objectives and scope of reforms aimed at school-community partnerships, but also the complete range of reforms currently on the agenda. When considering priorities, policy makers should focus on the impact on teachers (especially teacher working hours), the need for training and role clarity (especially for school leaders) and the importance of tackling inequalities across schools and students.

Sustain the holistic model at the school level

Introducing additional support for schools or school-boards is at the heart of the reform package currently being implemented in Japan (Team Gakkou and Community-School). The dual purpose of these measures is to enhance management efficiency to effectively deliver holistic education and to allow schools to link to their local community. The extent to which these initiatives support the role of teachers will condition the success of the curriculum reform.

Team Gakkou and Community-Schools are indeed intended to cover additional social and welfare needs at the school level often undertaken by teachers, in order to relieve teachers of these non-teaching and time-consuming tasks. Similar measures of external support have already been successfully implemented in other OECD countries:

  • To respond to low upper secondary education graduation rates, which stood at 68% in 2003, Ontario (Canada) launched the Student Success initiative, aiming to increase the graduation rate to 85%. The province observed that the path for dropping out started early: failing one or more courses in Grade 9 was a strong predictor of future failure. The Ministry of Education started funding one Student Success Leader in every school board to help implement initiatives in its schools and one Student Success Teacher per secondary school to provide support to students at risk of not graduating. The upper secondary education graduation rate steadily increased to reach 81% in 2010 (Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, 2011[20]).

  • In Finland, school management has supported effective student learning with additional staffing resources in schools. The model has been highlighted as one of the reasons for Finland’s educational success (OECD, 2009[21]). Its multidisciplinary approach to preventing failure is based on observation by staff engaged for that purpose and interventions to provide support for children. These interventions include intensification to give children more time with instructors and alternative approaches to teaching and learning. While teachers are responsible for identifying students who may be underperforming and can work with such students directly, teachers’ assistants can then intervene at the next level. In additional, schools have qualified special-needs teachers. In consultation with teachers, they work with students who have not been adequately helped by the first two types of intervention. Finally, a multidisciplinary team exists in schools for students whose lack of progress may be associated with broader home or social problems. The team consists of the teacher, the special-needs teacher, the school counsellor and several individuals from outside the school, including a psychologist, a social worker from the department of social services, representatives of the health and mental health systems as necessary, and individuals from the public housing system, if that seems to be part of the problem (Field, Kuczera and Pont, 2007[22]). This approach has been successful in preventing student underperformance before the end of the school year or dropout and providing support for teachers.

In Japan, enhancing support services at school level could not only cover extra social or welfare needs for students and potentially enhance students’ well-being, but it could also alleviate the burden of teachers. MEXT highlights that the rise in special needs education and the forecast decline in the teaching labour force could worsen the situation for teachers. To alleviate teachers’ workload and ensure they have enough time for training, the following options could be examined:

 . The possibility of having additional teachers or administrative staff. By itself this measure would not necessarily alleviate individual teachers workload, it would require to clarify what tasks the new teachers would take on, how that would reduce the workload of incumbent teachers, and who would decide how to distribute the workload across teachers (at the school or local level). Options include having rotating teachers to support classroom teachers, defining smaller student/teacher ratios or co-teaching, for example. Other issues need to be considered, such as the physical space for teachers to have good working conditions and availability of space to open up additional classrooms.

 . Building on Team Gakkou and on school community partnerships. This would provide additional staff to support teachers and schools in the promotion of holistic education and with the organisation of extracurricular activities more effectively. This would also require clarity in the distribution of tasks to support teachers.

These complementary options would ensure that teachers can focus on effective implementation of curriculum reform. However, it is important for Japan not to rush into a more Tayloristic work organisation within schools, as the broad set of responsibilities that Japanese teachers have towards their students is one of the keys to the success of its education system. Japan should therefore aim to assess what tasks can be outsourced to external workers without jeopardising the holistic model, monitor the potential gains in terms of work release for teachers and the impact on students’ well-being.

A key to success of this reform is how it will impact teachers’ working hours, their responsibilities and their welfare. Monitoring could include regular national data collection on teachers’ working hours, including how teachers’ work time is distributed among various activities. Data on different practices in school-community partnerships could be analysed to learn more about the impact of various approaches. This can contribute to collecting information on good practices or on partnerships with a negative impact on teachers that should be reviewed. Broad data collection could be supplemented, with case studies of specific schools, to understand the impact of reforms on teachers and assess what is and is not working.

Focus leadership towards 2030

Evidence points to some of the key tasks related to effective school leadership as those focused on providing a vision for the school, supporting and developing teachers and securing a collaborative environment focused on learning (Leithwood and Louis, 2011[27]; Leithwood, Harris and Hopkins, 2008[28]; Hattie, 2015[26]; Hallinger, 2014[24]; Pont, Nusche and Moorman, 2008[3]). In addition, school leaders are integral to introducing education reforms.

To provide greater leverage for school leaders to take on these tasks, governments have established specific leadership training, defined standards for principals to clarify their role and launched other policies, including changing recruitment practices and introducing evaluation. An OECD study of school leadership policy and practice suggested a policy framework that can contribute to enhance school leadership by:

  • providing clear definitions of the roles of school leaders focused on improving school outcomes,

  • having professional selection processes,

  • providing specific leadership training at different stages of their careers,

  • developing evaluation and incentives to ensure that school leadership is an attractive profession (Pont, Nusche and Moorman, 2008[3]).

In Japan, school leaders have specific training as school leaders at the master’s level in Professional Graduate Schools of Education. Their practice however, focuses more on administrative tasks and facilitating the work of teachers. In this way, and reflecting their culture and practices, leadership is distributed, as teachers have high levels of responsibility in the curriculum and in school performance.

The reforms being introduced have the potential to change the nature of school leadership practices to look forward to 2030 skills. On the one hand, the curriculum reform will require that schools focus on the development and assessment of new types of skills and competencies for their students. On the other hand, the development of school-community partnerships and other school management organisations, including Team Gakkou, will require principals to manage larger teams, to lead the curriculum reform process and to engage proactively and forge relations with the community. It is not clear whether the current training or the skills of current principals are suited to these types of new tasks, whether their current tasks encompass these actions or whether they will require additional time and engagement.

To ensure that school leaders support the current reform strategy, MEXT can explore whether current descriptions of the role of school leaders and their teams cover tasks and responsibilities encompassing these new responsibilities. These include: leading the curriculum reform process in the school and finding new assessment tools to measure the types of competencies to be developed; leading new teams in the school (Team Gakkou); and extending and broadening the responsibilities to focus more on school community partnerships. This may require reviewing the financial capacity or autonomy to develop these relationships to strengthen after-school activities outside of the school. In addition, school leadership training may need to be revised to include development of the required skills.

Selected international examples provide guidance in school leadership development and standards:

  • Ontario (Canada) has defined a specific leadership strategy which has a leadership framework as its centrepiece. The framework describes the school-level practices that research has shown to have a positive impact on student achievement and the actions associated with each practice for principals and vice-principals at the school level. These are meant to be used for selection and recruitment of school leaders, but also to underpin training and to clarify for school leaders what their main tasks are and how to achieve them.

  • The Australian Professional Standard for Principals is a public statement which defines what school leaders are expected to know, understand and do to be successful in their job. It has three leadership requirements within five areas of professional practice, which provide a shared vision and common language for practice. These have been developed and validated with the profession. The Standard and associated profiles are directed towards leaders and future leaders in their learning pathways. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership has been in charge of development and updating of the Standard.

In addition to reviewing the practices of school leaders and the required training, the high turnover rate (2.9 years in primary and lower secondary schools) (MEXT, 2011[5]) may also merit reflection, with a view to ensuring the sustainability required for forging school-community partnerships and implementing the new curriculum. Having leadership teams as part of Team Gakkou can be an alternative approach to ensure sustainability of the actions. Another alternative may be to extend the duration of school leaders’ tenure in schools during implementation of selected reforms.

Set clear objectives for school-community partnerships

There is a wide range of school-community partnership initiatives across countries and communities. This diversity reflects the potential ambiguity in reforms to improve school-community partnerships. Not only do different education systems have different objectives, but schools in different communities may also have different priorities or objectives in building partnerships with their local community, depending on the local context and needs.

There is mixed evidence on whether school-community partnerships can contribute to overall students’ learning more effectively than other interventions (Ikesako, n.d[29]), but some evidence suggests that strengthening the links with parents and the community can contribute to more conducive learning environments for students with disadvantaged backgrounds (OECD, 2013[30]). Examples of partnerships with communities that respond to extracurricular needs or provide holistic coverage of children’s needs include the following:

  • Partnerships linked to the provision of extracurricular activities: Denmark implemented a reform of the public school system in 2014, which included the Open School (Åben Skole) initiative, which requires schools to reach out to their local communities to support student learning. Schools are obliged to co-operate with local partners, such as cultural and sports organisations. In Norway and Sweden, there have been initiatives that encourage schools to collaborate with community professionals and organisations to enhance students’ access to arts and culture.

  • Partnerships linking schools with other support services for the communities: This approach can streamline provision of government services, through better linkages between education and welfare services. Most importantly, the provision of multiple services in one geographic location facilitates a more comprehensive approach to addressing economic, education and social issues. This is commonly observed in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Blank, Melaville and Shah (2003[17]) review evidence on community schools in the United States and conclude that they produce positive outcomes in four areas: 1) student learning; 2) family engagement; 3) school effectiveness; and 4) community vitality.

In Japan, where the package of school-community partnership reforms is running alongside a significant curriculum reform, it is vital to keep the impact on teaching and learning in the classroom at the forefront of decision-making. Implementing the important curriculum reforms will require considerable effort to review how teachers are led, supported and developed and how they are held accountable for changing their practice and using the new curriculum in their classes.

Given this and the challenge of long working hours for teachers in Japan, the design and implementation of reforms to develop and improve school-community partnerships must be targeted in a way that supports broader reforms to teaching and learning. Large programmes have been developed to improve school-community partnerships. The detail of their design and implementation (including how the programmes interact in schools) will determine their effectiveness, particularly their impact on teachers.

The proposed reforms to school-community partnerships are ambitious and complex, covering a range of areas, as they may be designed to serve the specific needs of the school and the local population. Moreover, their composition and effectiveness may vary, due to factors such as resource constraints and policy objectives. For example, during the OECD review visit, some schools were having parents and volunteers supervise children’s daily walk to school for security reasons. Interviews with stakeholders during the visit identified five objectives for school-community partnerships:

  1. promoting community regeneration so that partnerships help build social and economic infrastructure in the community

  2. creating a hub for multiple services and activities

  3. providing after-school resources for low-income students and families

  4. assisting students to learn actively

  5. reducing pressure on teachers and school leaders.

The main premise of school-community partnerships is the idea of education being open to society. However, the OECD team found that the current reform of school-community partnerships does not clearly identify objectives related to the curriculum reform agenda. Since the review visit, the Japanese government revised the Social Education Act (in March 2017) and established guidelines to promote Community Co-operation Activities for Learning and Education, which include some objectives related to implementation of the new curriculum from 2020. It is important to ensure that these objectives are at the heart of collaboration between schools and communities, to ensure that schools are able to deliver competencies for the 21st century and that teachers have support and collaboration to do so.

Better targeting will ensure that these reforms do not detract from other reforms and will allow teachers to focus on curriculum and pedagogical reforms. Four questions should be considered when implementing reforms that promote school-community partnerships:

  1. Do these reforms free up resources for teachers to undertake pedagogical and curricular reforms?

  2. Do they decrease teachers’ workload or give teachers more hours per day or week for pedagogical tasks?

  3. Do they require teachers to learn and change more of their practice (i.e. do these reforms ask teachers to change even more of what they do each day)?

  4. Do they enable school leaders to better implement change and help them to support teachers in implementing new curriculum and pedagogical approaches?

These questions obviously target resourcing and freeing up teacher time. They also emphasise how much change Japanese teachers are being asked to undertake, reflecting the risk of potential reform fatigue. The government has rightly prioritised curricular and pedagogical reforms. Asking teachers to undergo extensive changes in other areas will divert their efforts from curricular changes.

Therefore, it is important to make school-community partnerships an integrated part of the curriculum reform, so that schools understand that they are complementary to the reform. Schools should also be given the capacity to decide when it is best to introduce such partnerships, in order to take into account teachers’ workload and to ensure a seamless transition to the new curriculum. At the moment, it is not clear how reforms to school-community partnerships will significantly free up resources for teachers and support the curriculum reform.

Tackle inequalities across schools and students

Effective school-community partnerships can contribute to reducing inequality across communities. In a number of countries, school-community partnerships are focused on low-income neighbourhoods, providing academic support for struggling students, helping with welfare and other social issues and targeting after-school activities for at-risk youth.

  • In the United States, school-based and community-based mentoring activities that match a child with a non-family adult have been widely implemented. The Big Brothers Big Sisters programme has been proved to be effective in improving a number of school-related student outcomes among at-risk youth, including overall academic performance, quality of class work, number of assignments turned in, serious school infractions, academic self-confidence and skipping school (Herrera et al., 2007[31]).

  • In the Netherlands, community-schools (brede scholen) link education with other services that are important to children and parents, such as education support, childcare and health centres. In the 1990s, community schools were located in disadvantaged areas, particularly those with high rates of migrant inhabitants. The evaluation of Dutch community schools by Claassen et al. (2008[32]) did not find that the approach had effects on either the cognitive or the socio-emotional front, possibly because various characteristics of community schools were also observed in other schools (OECD, 2009[21]).

Some education systems have emphasised partnerships linked to provision of additional instruction and academic support. The provision of out-of-school private tutoring (shadow education) is an increasing phenomenon internationally. A comparative study on the provision of private tutoring in European Union countries analysed the reasons behind this increase and concluded that it has implications for equity, for schools, children and their families that need to be further researched and placed on the agenda of policy makers across countries (Bray, 2011[33]).

Particularly in Western European countries, social competition, school performance rankings, examination-based learning and the pressures transmitted to families and children have been a force driving the expansion of shadow education. The study concludes that, if left to market forces, tutoring maintains and exacerbates inequalities. Families with higher income can afford both greater quantities and better quality of tutoring. In this light, school-community partnerships appear as an interesting measure to promote equity. Different examples of partnerships have focused on reducing inequality in learning opportunities, as families in higher socio-economic groups tend to have more opportunity to invest in out-of-school private tutoring.

  • In Australia, the Extended Service School Models Project includes some learning facilitation programmes, such as homework clubs and reading and spelling clubs, to assist in lifting educational outcomes and to aid in developing good study habits (TNS Australia, 2014[34]).

  • In the United States, parents of low-income students in low-performing schools are offered a choice of Supplemental Educational Services (SES) for their children. SES include tutoring or other academic support services offered outside the regular school day, at no charge to students or their families, by public or private organisations approved by the state as SES providers. School districts are required to offer SES to all students from low-income families attending a disadvantaged school who do not make progress toward meeting state standards. However, participation is low with less than 20% of eligible students participating, and research suggests that SES can be effective only when students receive a certain amount of tutoring (Barley and Wegner, 2010[35]; Heinrich, Meyer and Whitten, 2010[36]; Deke et al., 2012[37]).

However, there may be some risks in a greater emphasis on community partnerships if there are no control mechanisms. Efforts to develop these partnerships might increase inequality across communities. Wealthier communities, by definition, have greater financial and human capital than poorer communities, so children from these neighbourhoods may benefit more than others from school-community partnerships. Differences between urban and rural communities must also be acknowledged.

Japan could identify such risks and mitigate them by developing a safety net for its schools. This would imply determining a standard level of quality for school-community partnerships. A structure at the level of the prefecture, for example a network of all the schools related to that prefecture, could ensure that economies of scales are realised, more resources are provided to schools in disadvantaged communities, and specific mechanisms are established to help students in deprived neighbourhoods. Such an approach could help achieve a high standard of quality in all schools across Japan.


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