Skip to main content

Characteristics of Successful Schools

I was very fortunate to spend six weeks this summer visiting Australia. I was in Perth, Western Australia, for most of this time and whilst there I had plenty of time for reading, a very important summertime activity for me each year. As usual I had bought a few books for the journey, but was dismayed to find I had managed to leave these behind in Dubai airport as I journeyed to Perth. However, all was not lost as WA is home to a very healthy and modern library service. I was able to use this during my stay and I had access to many recent and up to date books on education and leadership, including one of the ones I had left behind in Dubai. I must say it was refreshing to see the library provision and the importance seemingly given to this resource by the local government of WA. A contrast to the approach being taken towards library services back home, which some people seem to see as easy targets in times of austerity. A view I see as shortsighted and damaging, especially for those most disadvantaged. I am deeply indebted to library access during my own education and career and I think we risk damaging and reducing opportunities for learning and reading if we continue with our current direction of travel regarding these.

Anyway I digress, what in really wanted to share was some of the main points from one of the books I read whilst I was there. This book was 'Why Not The Best Schools?' Written by Brian Caldwell and Jessica Harris. This was first published by the Australian Council For Educational Research (ACER) in 2008. In this book Caldwell and Harris consider what the best schools look like and pose the question in the title for their colleagues in Australian schools and education systems to consider. Caldwell had written before on schools and education and he encapsulates his thinking around this by identifying four key 'capitals' that he believes need consideration when looking at school improvement. He feels these Intellectual, Social, Spiritual and Financial capitals all need focused attention if schools are going to achieve the best for themselves and their  pupils. Both Caldwell and Harris refer to the Mckynsey report on global education that stated 'The quality of schools will never exceed the quality of their staff' and how they wished to consider this further by looking closely at successful schools in six different countries. These were China, Finland, England, Wales, Australia and USA. As part of their investigations the two authors worked with schools and staff from each of these countries.

As a result of their work, they felt they were able to identify common practices found in successful schools within the six countries. I share these with you as follows:

  • The schools select staff to reflect local needs
  • The schools share a strong focus on CPD, particularly in-house sharing of knowledge and skills
  • The schools share strong relationships with other schools to share knowledge and skills
  • The schools have developed relationships with organisations other than schools
  • The schools have clearly defined values
  • The schools have student well-being as a priority
  • The schools receive government funding
  • The schools seek funding from other resources
  • The schools have developed leadership structures appropriate to their contexts and are led by valued and visionary leaders
  • The schools have have high levels of freedom for day to day management
If you have read any of my previous posts on Michael Fullan or Clive Dimmock's characteristics of high performing schools, education systems and school leaders, there will be much that is familiar here. 

Would you consider anything missing? 

Where is the primacy of learning and teaching? Where the focus on impact and outcomes for learners? One might feel there is an overemphasis on structures and procedures rather than outputs and outcomes. But there is much that I would support and endorse and which is reflected in the findings of other similar research projects. There is certainly enough for school leaders to consider and perhaps audit their own settings against, or use as vehicle for further professional conversations and dialogue.

Over to you.

Popular posts from this blog

Some thoughts on Scottish education

This week I was asked if I would go along to speak to labour MSPs and MPs about Scottish education and schools. My brief was to talk about education. its current state, the reality of how the attainment gap can be tackled, how teachers can help government address the challenges of poverty, and how we might start to reinvest in our schools and our teaching staff. The politicians did not want to hear from the 'same people' who always spoke to them, and wanted to hear from someone 'fresh from the chalk-face'. I had forty five minutes, about twenty minutes input from me then a discussion and question and answer session. No pressure there then! Anyway, I gave it my best shot.

I started with a brief introduction to myself and my background, to give them some idea of who this person was, and why they might be able to help them and I tried to cover most of the following in my time slot.

I started with some the positives from our system.

Stuff we should be proud of:
Our learners …

A PISA My Mind

When John Swinney stood up in the Scottish parliament this week and described the performance of Scottish Education as making for 'uncomfortable reading' and that 'radical reform' was needed, he no doubt did this in the belief he was speaking from an informed position. He went on to pledge to bring 'an unwavering focus on improvement' and promised to carry out further reforms 'no matter how controversial.' His message was loud and clear, our performance is not good enough and he was going to change this. I wonder if he ever thought about the impact of his very public pronouncements had on teachers and school leaders as they were heading into their schools the next day? I suspect not.

So, what 'informed' Mr Swinney's assessment of the Scottish education system? Was it from the hundreds of visits he had made to Scottish schools since his appointment in May of this year? Was it from the conversations he had with thousands of pupils, teachers an…

Scottish education governance announcement

John Swinney has today made his long expected announcement regarding the governance structure he wishes to introduce into Scottish education. This announcement followed a consultation on his proposals and his determination that Scottish education needs to improve, and part of the way of achieving this is by giving headteachers, teachers and parents more say in what goes on in their schools, As you can imagine, there has been a lot of resistance to his proposals, especially from local authorities, who have an almost 100% responsibility for public schools at the moment.

When he stood up in the Scottish parliament, Mr Swinney announced that his new governance structure would be underpinned by three 'key pillars. These are to be enhanced career and development opportunities for teachers combined with a Headteacher Charter, Regional Improvement Collaboratives and Local Government.

The 'statutory Headteacher Charter' would sit at the heart of these reforms he said and this would…