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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.

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