NSW Department of Education

‘Making School Time Count’ initiative




Context of the initiative

In 2017, the NSW Department of Education (DoE) commissioned Deloitte to conduct a research study into school principal workload and time use.[1] That study found that while the scope of the principal’s role hasn’t changed over time, the way components are required to be executed has changed. This change has been partially driven by the ‘Local Schools, Local Decisions’ (LSLD) education reform. While greater authority has been given to principals, the level of compliance required for their professional duties has contributed to their administrative workload. From 2017, DoE implemented the School Leadership Strategy, [2] a long-term and ongoing strategic priority for public education in NSW. Its aim was to significantly enhance the department’s support for school leaders so they can focus on leading teaching and learning in their schools.




Intent of the initiative

A key aspect of the School Leadership Strategy is the delivery of better services and support for school leaders, including:

·      working with principals to improve the timing, coordination and presentation of communications to schools.

·      adopting a user-centred approach to initiative design, implementation and change management that considers the ability of principals to absorb the change.


To deliver on the principle of ‘making school time count’, the DoE focused the recently created Delivery Unit on removing administrative burden and reducing duplication of information requests to schools. A school-centric approach has been adopted through structured principal interviews and discussions. The Delivery Unit’s work elevated the focus on reducing school workload throughout DoE and was embraced and committed to by teams across DoE.

Concerns were expressed by principals that there was limited consultation before major changes were released to schools, that some of the changes (particularly to Information Technology (IT) systems) were released prematurely, and that there were a significant number of uncoordinated changes. In response, a disciplined approach has been adopted in communication with schools and in the setting of requirements and dates for completion. A calendar of requirements (Master Schedule) for new change initiatives and significant updates to ‘business as usual’ and information and compliance data requests have been established with a 12-month horizon, so that all requests for inclusion can be scrutinised, duplication identified and redundancies eliminated.




Steps taken and challenges faced

In 2019, DoE embedded a school-centric delivery approach for all changes to its operations, incorporating four stages. This approach and its four stages are summarised in the table below.

Four-Stage School-Centric Delivery Approach

Plan and prioritise

·      Consult with schools

·      Define outcomes and how schools will benefit

·      Estimate time impact

·      Coordinate and prioritise within and across divisions using the Master Schedule


Design, pilot and iterate

·      Design change with and for schools

·      Pilot change

·      Iterate based on feedback and take the time to get it right

·      Verify time impact


Train and implement

·      Clearly communicate change to schools

·      Ensure appropriate training and support to embed change

·      Deliver change


Embed and monitor

·      Establish monitoring and evaluation

·      Determine if outcomes are being delivered and refine as needed

·      Ensure change is embedded in DoE and with schools


The school-centric delivery approach also encompasses a set of principles coupled with supporting mechanisms, listed in the table below.

School-Centric Principles and Supporting Mechanisms


·      School time counts

·      With schools, not to schools

·      Take the time to get it right

·      Coordinate and prioritise as one


Supporting Mechanisms

·      Master Schedule

·      Change-free periods

·      Change caps

·      Delivery meetings


As noted, the Master Schedule was introduced to improve planning and coordination of changes across DoE and provides a view of all changes rolling out to schools over a 12-month period. The Master Schedule is updated quarterly and reviewed every Term. Project teams must submit Master Schedule entries to division coordinators for review and prioritisation prior to being included on the Schedule. In addition, in 2019 DoE introduced change-free periods (totalling 17 weeks in the 41-week school year) to the schedule, to accommodate busy periods in schools, during which times DoE will avoid introducing new changes.

To assist prioritisation and limit change fatigue that might occur as a result of focussing 41 weeks of change into the remaining 24 weeks of the Schedule, ‘change caps’ have been developed for each Term. These change caps have been developed based on the expected number of hours required for schools to embed mandatory changes. Further, ‘Delivery Meetings’ are held within DoE to review proposals for major changes. These fortnightly meetings allow changes (solutions, policies, and procedures) to be prioritised and ensure that changes are delivered strategically, with impact, and at the right time.




Evaluations of the initiative

DoE has set targets for the hours that it intends to ‘save’ from the workloads of principals: namely, a target of 190 hours reduction in administrative burden, approximately 20% of their administrative time. DoE tracks hours saved and estimates its impact across the State in terms of averages. As at early April 2021, DoE estimates to have saved 105 hours per principal, 25 hours per administrative staff member, and 10 hours per teacher. To date the largest savings have been identified through better delivery of IT changes such as automating reporting requirements, reducing compliance requirements, and streamlining inefficient processes such as daily checking of cancelled or adjusted receipts. However we note that these time estimates only take into account solutions that have delivered time saving for schools and not the net impact of changes or admin across this period.

Other than time savings through changes and enhancements to IT and streamlining of processes, time savings have been made for principals and administrative staff by recentralising some activities (such as payments for utility bills for small schools) and by also implementing changes to simplify school budget and other cash management processes.




Future developments

In 2020, further improvements on the Master Schedule were delivered and are listed in the table below.

Master Schedule 2020 Improvements


·      Providing single sign on integration between our operating systems

·      Making it easier to approve and manage system access (through the ‘Access Management’ app)

·      Streamlining and improving purchasing process (smart purchasing)

·      Streamlining the access requests process for vision and hearing support

·      Discouraging duplicative data entry on the pupil record cards

·      Digitising the enrolment process into ‘online enrolment’

·      Making the English as an Additional Language/Dialect advice document easier to use

·      Digitising the application processes for the School Spectacular

·      Automating 60% of the annual school report

·      Reducing the number of steps to complete recruitment


In 2021, there will be a strengthened focus on reducing administrative burden for schools as highlighted within the recently announced School Success Model. Ambitious targets will be in place to reduce the red tape for principals and teachers by 20 per cent (the target for principals continues the focus to achieve a 190 hrs reduction in administrative burden for principals).

This is part of a series of better practice examples to share how education systems and sectors across Australia are reducing the burden of compliance and administrative tasks on school leaders and teachers.

Browse all practice examples and reducing red tape report