Educational Research for Policy and Practice

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 195–207 | Cite as

Why context matters: a comparative perspective on education reform and policy implementation

  • Alma HarrisEmail author
  • Michelle Jones
Original Article


This article explores the significance of context within the process of contemporary education reform and policy-making. It draws upon evidence from a comparative study of educational change and transformation in seven education systems: Australia, England, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Russia, and Singapore. The article focuses on school leadership preparation, training, and development, which has become a policy priority and central improvement strategy in many education systems. The article explores how seven education systems are using this strategy to promote school and system improvement. The article reflects upon the centrality of context in the process of policy implementation and in the broader pursuit of system transformation. The article concludes that more contextually appropriate approaches to educational policy selection are needed and that borrowing approaches from other countries many bring unintended consequences and unfortunate side effects. Further, the article concludes that the process of policy implementation, in context, requires far more attention, if the intended outcomes are to be achieved.


Education reform Education change PISA Systemic change School improvement System reform 



The authors acknowledge the University of Malaya for funding part of the ‘7 system leadership study’ and also thank the expert advisers from each country. The authors acknowledge the research team at the Institute of Educational Leadership, University of Malaya, who contributed to this empirical study.


  1. Acemoglu, D., & Autor, D. (2009). Lectures in labour economics. Boston: MIT.Google Scholar
  2. Alexander, R. J. (2012). Moral panic, miracle cures and educational policy: What can we really learn from international comparison? Scottish Educational Review, 44(1), 4–21.Google Scholar
  3. Auld, E., & Morris, P. (2014). Comparative education, the ‘new paradigm’ and policy borrowing: Constructing knowledge for educational reform. Comparative Education, 50(2), 129–155. Scholar
  4. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). (2011). Australian professional standard for principals. Canberra, ACT: Author.Google Scholar
  5. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). (2014). Australian professional standards for principals and the leadership profiles. Canberra, ACT: Author.Google Scholar
  6. Barber, M., & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world’s best-performing schools come out on top. London: McKinsey & Company.
  7. Breakspear, S. (2012). The policy impact of PISA: An exploration of the normative effects of international benchmarking in school system performance. OECD Education Working Papers, (71), 0-1.Google Scholar
  8. Brian, K. (2007). OECD insights human capital how what you know shapes your life: How what you know shapes your life. London: OECD Publishing.Google Scholar
  9. Brown, P., & Lauder, H. (2001). Capitalism and social progress: The future of society in a global economy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bush, T. (2012). International perspectives on leadership development: Making a difference. Professional Development in Education, 38(4), 663–678. Scholar
  11. Bysik, N., Evstigneeva, N., Isaeva, N., Kukso, K., Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2015). A missing link? Contemporary insights into principal preparation and training in Russia. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 35(3), 331–341. Scholar
  12. Cohen, D., & Prusak, L. (2001). In good company: How social capital makes organizations work (Vol. 15). Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  13. Darling Hammond, L., LaPointe, M., Meyerson, D., Orr, M. T., & Cohen, C. (2007). Preparing school leaders for a changing world: Lessons from exemplary leadership development programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford Educational Leadership Institute.Google Scholar
  14. Darling Hammond, L., & Rothman, R. (2011). Teacher and leader effectiveness in high performing education systems. Washington DC and Stanford, CA: Alliance for Excellent Education and Stanford and Centre for Opportunity Policy in Education.Google Scholar
  15. Dinham, S., Anderson, M., Caldwell, B., & Weldon, P. (2011). Breakthroughs in school leadership development in Australia. School Leadership and Management, 31(2), 139–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Frank, R. H., & Bernanke, B. S. (2007). Principles of microeconomics (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.Google Scholar
  17. Fullan, M. (2018). Surreal change: The real life of transforming public education. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Green, A. (2003). Education, globalisation and the role of comparative research. London Review of Education, 1(2), 84–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hallinger, P. (2018). Bringing context out of the shadows of leadership. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 46(1), 5–24. Scholar
  20. Harris, A., Adams, D., Jones, M., & Muniandy, V. (2014). System effectiveness and improvement: The importance of theory and context. School Effectiveness and School Improvement: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice, 26(1), 1–3. Scholar
  21. Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2015a). Transforming education systems: Comparative and critical perspectives on school leadership. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 35(1), 311–318. Scholar
  22. Harris, A., & Jones, M. (Eds.). (2015b). Leading futures: Global perspectives on educational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Press.Google Scholar
  23. Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2017). Leading educational change and improvement at scale: Some inconvenient truths about educational reform. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 20(5), 1–10. Scholar
  24. Harris, A., Jones, M., & Adams, D. (2016). Qualified to lead? A comparative, contextual and cultural view of educational policy borrowing. Educational Research, 58(2), 166–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Harris, A., Jones, M., Sharma, S., & Kannan, S. (2013). Leading educational transformation in Asia: Sustaining the knowledge society. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 33(2), 212–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture and organizations. International Studies of Management & Organization, 10(4), 15–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Huber, S. (2004). Preparing school leaders for the 21st century: An international comparison of development programs in 15 countries. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. IAB. (2014). NPQEL Menjana kepemimpinan masa hadapan: Menggilap permata [Generating future leadership: Shining gems]. Genting Highlands: Institut Aminuddin Baki.Google Scholar
  29. Jensen, B., Hunter, A., Lambert, T., & Clark, A. (2015). Aspiring principal preparation. Melbourne: Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.Google Scholar
  30. Jensen, B., Hunter, A., Sonneman, J., & Burns, T. (2012). Catching up: Learning from the best school systems in East Asia. Melbourne: University of Melbourne, Grattan Institute.Google Scholar
  31. Jones, M., Adams, D., Tan, M., Vasu, M., Perera, C. J., & Harris, A. (2015). Contemporary challenges and changes: Principals’ leadership practices in Malaysia’. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 35(3), 353–365. Scholar
  32. Kauko, J., & Wermke, W. (2018). The contingent sense-making of contingency: Epistemologies of change in comparative education. Comparative Education Review, 62(2), 157–177. Scholar
  33. Khan, M. A., Khan, M. Z., Zaman, K., Hassan, U., & Umar, S. (2014). Global estimates of growth–inequality–poverty (GIP) triangle: Evidence from World Bank’s classification countries. Quality & Quantity, 48(5), 2631–2646. Scholar
  34. Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2012). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Jossey-Bass Incorporated.Google Scholar
  35. Leana, C. R., & Frits, K. (2006). Social capital and organizational performance: Evidence from urban public schools. Organization Science, 17, 353–366. Scholar
  36. Lee, M., & Hallinger, P. (2012). National contexts influencing principals’ time use and allocation: Economic development, societal culture, and educational system. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 23(4), 461–482. Scholar
  37. Leithwood, K., Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2008). Seven strong claims about successful school leadership. School Leadership and Management, 28(1), 27–42. Scholar
  38. LP2KS. (2015). Lembaga Pengembangan dan Pemberdayaan Kepala Sekolah [Principal development and empowerment]. Retrieved from:
  39. MoNE. (2009). Peraturan Menteri Pendidikan Nasional nomor 6 tahun 2009 tentang Organisasi dan Tata Kerja Lembaga Pengembangan dan Pemberdayaan Kepala Sekolah (LP2KS) (decree of minister of national education about Agency for School Principal Empowerment and Development). Jakarta: Ministry of National Education.Google Scholar
  40. Moorosi, P., & Bush, T. (2011). School leadership development in Commonwealth countries: Learning across the boundaries. International Studies in Educational Administration, 39(3), 59–76. Scholar
  41. Morris, P. (2012). Pick ‘n’ mix, select and project: Policy borrowing and the quest for ‘world class’ schooling: An analysis of the 2010 schools. Journal of Education Policy, 27(1), 89–107. Scholar
  42. Mourshed, M., Chijioke, C., & Barber, M. (2010). How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better. New York, NY: McKinsey and Company.Google Scholar
  43. Ng, P. T. (2008). Educational reform in Singapore: From quantity to quality. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 7(1), 5–15. Scholar
  44. Ng, P. T. (2010). The evolution and nature of school accountability in the Singapore education system. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 22(4), 275–292. Scholar
  45. Ployhart, R. E., Nyberg, A. J., Reilly, G., & Maltarich, M. A. (2014). Human capital is dead; long live human capital resources! Journal of Management, 40(2), 371–398. Scholar
  46. Quintero, E. (2017). Teaching in context: The social side of education reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  47. Ravitch, D. (2013). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage.Google Scholar
  48. Sahlberg, P. (2015). Finnish schools and the global education reform movement. In J. Evers & R. Kneyber (Eds.), Flip the system: Changing education from the ground up (pp. 162–173). Abingdon, OX: Routledge.Google Scholar
  49. Schleicher, A. (2014). The learning curve: Education and skills for life. New York: Pearson Press.Google Scholar
  50. Schleicher, A. (2018). World class: How to build a 21st century school system. Paris: OECD Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schultz, T. W. (1961). Investment in human capital. The American Economic Review, 51(1), 1–17.Google Scholar
  52. Schultz, T. P. (1992). The role of education and human capital in economic development: An empirical assessment (No. 670). Center Discussion Paper.Google Scholar
  53. Sellar, S., & Lingard, B. (2018). International large-scale assessments: Affective worlds and policy impacts in education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 31(5), 367–381. Scholar
  54. Stewart, V. (2012). A world class education: Learning from international models of excellence and innovation. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.Google Scholar
  55. Sumintono, B., Sheyoputri, E. Y., Jiang, N., Misbach, I. H., & Jumintono, (2015). Becoming a principal in Indonesia: Possibility, pitfalls and potential. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 35(3), 342–352. Scholar
  56. Teddlie, C., Stringfield, S., & Reynolds, D. (2000). Context issues within school effectiveness research. In C. Teddlie & D. Reynolds (Eds.), International handbook of school effectiveness research. London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  57. Tucker, M. (2011). Surpassing Shanghai: An agenda for American education built on the world’s leading systems. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  58. Waterston, B. (2015). Environmental scan: Principal preparation programs. Melbourne: Prepared for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.Google Scholar
  59. Wei, J., Zheng, W., & Zhang, M. (2011). Social capital and knowledge transfer: A multi-level analysis. Human Relations, 64(11), 1401–1423. Scholar
  60. World Bank Indicators. (2012). World development indicators 2012. Retrieved from Accessed 20 July 2017
  61. Yin, R. K. (1994). Case study research: Design and methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  62. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  63. Zhao, Y. (2016). Who’s afraid of PISA: The fallacy of international assessments of system performance. In A. Harris & M. Jones (Eds.), Leading futures: Global perspectives on educational leadership (pp. 7–21). London: SAGE Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationUniversity of BathBathUK

Personalised recommendations