Four strategies for school leaders raising achievement
Even though the summer is almost upon us, no school leader stops the search for ways to improve their school until the last day of term. In a previous ebulletin the work of Jim Collins was discussed in moving organisations from ‘good to great’ and a style of leadership was highlighted which school leaders could aspire towards.
Some readers may feel that moving from good to outstanding is a very optimistic target for their current situation
Some readers may feel that moving from good to outstanding is a very optimistic target for their current situation and, with the Ofsted changes this year, their key question may be, ‘How close is my school to a “good” judgement?’ If you are a school leader working in particularly challenging circumstances you may be more concerned about the prospect of repeated satisfactory judgements now rebranded as ‘requires improvement’.
Strategies for improvement
Hence you may like to hear about more schools in the most challenging circumstances that have achieved steady improvement. In Improving Urban Schools, edited by Mel Ainscow and Mel West, the chapter titled ‘Achieving sustainable improvement in urban schools’ describes a study of 34 secondary schools which at the end of the 1990s had a 5 A*-C pass rate of below 20%. Over the next six years the schools generally showed year-on-year improvement, to the point where some of the schools moved above the national average. The researchers highlighted four major strategies which they believed had been instrumental in raising achievement at the schools.
The first crucial point is that the school leaders believed that they had changed the culture of the school in terms of its values and beliefs. The school leaders felt that they had to build relationships with staff, children and the wider community; they had to strengthen the morale, particularly of their staff, and through this, raise expectations of what both staff and the students had to deliver. The headteachers were determined to assert the bottom line: that the school’s business was the education of the children at the school. One of the questions that I was recently asked by a leader from a different school was, ‘What are the values and beliefs which are particular to my school?’ Some of you may find this an interesting question to ponder as we reach the end of term and if you can readily answer this, what would your staff say?
Focus on teaching and learning
Many school leaders will say that improving the quality of teaching and learning is the issue that they put before everything else. However, would their staff agree too?
The second point was that all of the leaders focused resolutely on improving the quality of the teaching and learning at the school. This was also recognised as meeting the needs of the staff. The researchers grouped together wider elements than would normally be included in this category, such as roles and responsibilities, working relationships, management arrangements and teams and duties among senior staff and teachers. Many school leaders will agree with this and say that improving the quality of teaching and learning is the issue that they put before everything else. However, would their staff agree too? We often believe that we are doing something, but our staff perceive this differently and consider that we are focusing on other requirements of our role. If we are going to make improving the quality of teaching and learning our number one priority we need to ask ourselves what actions are required and what will this look like in practice for our teachers?
The school day
The third crucial point is reviewing the school day. On first reading you may think about how you have structured your core teaching day and consider how effective it is in meeting the needs of your students. Making any changes to the school day is a very long process and if this is something that you feel could be useful, the thinking needs to begin now ready for implementation in September 2013. However, the researchers were not necessarily considering this; instead they looked at how widely the schools’ resources could be used. What opportunities were there for learning before and after the traditional school day, so that extra-curricular time could be used to raise achievement? They also considered the importance of projects that were run during the Easter and summer holidays. Thinking of schooling in the holidays may be the last thing that you wish to consider at the moment but it does not have to be operated by school leaders, other professionals might be employed to deliver this provision.
The final point was that the schools made very purposeful use of data. In some ways this is the one suggestion in the piece of research which dates the article. One conclusion the researchers made is that the headteachers use the data to agitate for improvement but in a non-threatening way. There is an emphasis on data being used for target setting; as a vehicle for changing expectations and demonstrating progress. You may feel that you do use data in this way. Perhaps the point of reflection is how smartly do we use data? Are our staff swimming in figures that might be meaningless to all but the maths department? Instead, perhaps we need to consider what the core data are that our staff need to be using.
A final reflection
Perhaps we need to consider what the core data are that our staff need to be using
As the academic year draws to an end, any reflections you make must be born out of a positive view of the future. Whatever we feel about our progress over the last 40 weeks, perhaps our most important thoughts must be based on a positive view of what we have achieved over the year so that we can enjoy the holiday and return refreshed for another school year.
- Ainscow, M and West, M (2006) Improving Urban Schools: Leadership and Collaboration (Berkshire: Open University Press).
- Ebulletin From good to outstanding: key characteristics of the most effective leaders