How not to improve a school

Everyone agrees that ‘lasting and sustaining improvement in student outcomes’ is a good thing and there’s little doubt that we should also seek to narrow the gap in achievement between different groups of students. Nuff said. But how should we go about it?

Ben Levin, writer of How To Improve 5,000 Schools is pretty clear on what we shouldn’t do. We should avoid the following assumptions:

  • a single change can lead to rapid improvement
  • strong leaders can force schools to improve
  • incentives will motivate schools to improve
  • change must driven from above through policies
  • new standards and curriculum models will lead to improved results
  • data and accountability will lead to improvement

So, what should we do?

Prof Hattie, Dylan Wiliam and The Sutton Trust all urge us that it’s ‘the quality of teaching makes all the difference’ (Visible Learning for Teachers). Obviously leafy post codes, middle class kids and supportive parents will have a huge impact on a school’s outcomes but remember the second part of what we’re all after? The bit about narrowing the gap? If we’re going to achieve that it might be better to focus on the following:

  • high expectations for all students – even those kids. Get them to enjoy doing something difficult rather than the easy win of completing word searches and other educational evils.
  • the quality of relationships between adults and students – make them believe you like them, even if you don’t. If you fake it for long enough you’ll start to believe it. Be fair, consistent and really try to avoid being a grumpy git on a Monday morning.
  • students’ intrinsic motivation to learn. That means no sweeties or merits as incentives: ┬áthe task is the reward. Reward their effort not their success
  • a rich and balanced curriculum – learning should not always be formal – there is a need to veer between the efficiency of direction instruction and the excitement of discovery learning
  • a focus on effective teaching practices in all classrooms every day. That means stopping teachers from perpetrating well-intentioned nonsense and focussing on what the research shows are the most effectives strategies. (Effective formative feedback is still top of the list.)
  • data and feedback which is used to support learning and not used as a stick to beat teachers with

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