Wherever you stand in the ‘academisation’ debate it has, at the very least, brought all those concerned to look again at what enables schools to flourish, to provide a high quality of education and to ensure all their pupils secure the best possible outcomes. Successful leaders of schools, whatever their status, are relentlessly focused on these issues and have a clear and shared strategy which drives improvement. Support for schools in their improvement journey can come from a huge variety of sources, but where it is most effective the school’s context and point on that journey are understood and taken account of. In an article entitled, ‘The changing landscape of school improvement’, Professor David Hopkins suggests different routes to improvement that schools might take and also acknowledges how crucial the stage of development is when considering how to bring about school improvement.
For example, he identifies six levels of performance in English secondary schools:
- leading schools – the highest-performing schools which also have the capacity to lead others
- succeeding, self-improving schools – schools that have consistently above average levels of value added
- succeeding schools with significant areas of underperformance – they may be successful on published criteria but underperform
- underperforming schools – the secondary schools in the lowest value-added quartile
- low attaining schools – below the national floor target but with the capacity to improve
- failing schools – those secondary schools well below the floor target and with little capacity to improve.
The judgement about a school’s capacity to improve is clearly critical and why it has rightly always been at the heart of Ofsted’s frameworks for inspection. In making that judgement inspectors consider carefully the ability of leaders and managers at all levels to provide high quality learning which meets the whole range of pupils’ needs. Effective school leaders are those that ensure schools are effective learning communities in which:
- key features of learning and high expectations are shared with pupils and their parents
- pupils are fully engaged in their learning and are confident they can achieve well
- the school sees itself as a learning community in which pupils, staff and parents all continue to learn.
Having an explicit focus on learning establishes the context in which school leaders can lead improvement. It can identify the key areas of learning and teaching that are priorities and the focus around which teacher knowledge and understanding is to be secured. Most importantly it can identify high quality teaching as an entitlement for all pupils. For pupils to make at least good progress, teaching needs to be consistently good throughout the school. Achieving a good consistency of teaching can be one of the most challenging aspects of leaders’ work in bringing about improvement, but providing whole-school systematic continuous professional development (CPD) has the potential to make it a reality. This CPD should:
- focus professional learning on the agreed priorities for school improvement
- provide opportunities for people to learn collaboratively and to develop systems as well as knowledge
- relate it to teaching that will lead to changes that have a positive impact on pupils’ attainment and progress.
Above all, high quality CPD can help to establish the principle that all those within the school community, not only its leaders, must share in the responsibility and accountability for improvement.
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