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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

Focus on Getting Better at Getting Better

The standard school improvement process, certainly Blackpool’s default modus operandi; find kitchen sinks, ramdomly throw them with as much energy and passion as you can, have no impact then fall down exhausted.  Repeat ad nauseam.

Apart from the wasted time and effort; if things do improve you simply have no idea what worked and should be continued or what didn’t and isn’t worth the effort.  The approach also leads to extreme versions of the IKEA effect; the people that led the implementation or came up with the idea believe it is brilliant.  Sometime later they conclude it is indeed brilliant despite a lack of evidence or in spite of evidence that suggests otherwise.  From the classroom via the headteacher’s office to the Department for Education we are driven by political ideology or personal preference.  Recently the Department for Education were slammed for having no idea nor coherence to their approaches around teacher recruitment or retention.  It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.  Hundreds of millions are being put into the Strategic School Improvement Fund; I can already imagine what the National Audit Office Report will say.  Our current approach leads to busyness and limited progress; it is exhausting our teachers and school leaders who are voting with their feet.

The recent Education Endowment Foundation publication Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation is an attempt to get us to collectively slow down and think.  Think about the issue we want to address; think about the potential ways we could address it; think about what it would look like if we were successful; think about whether we are ready to implement and whether we have the capacity and think about how we will know whether the intervention has actually had an impact.  These are part of an iterative process; you keep asking each one; it’s a process and not an event.  Think first and then act.  For example, when we hear about a randomised control test – with an intervention group and a control group – we worry more about the control group missing out then the other group having their time wasted by an unproven intervention. 

The table below from Meols Cop High School, Southport provides an accessible and simple example to demonstrate how to approach what is a complex process.  It is complex but not beyond a school with the desire, commitment realisation that to really improve you need to slow down and implement really well.  Less activity and more thought would benefit all levels of the education system.

Our next significant development across the Trust is to significantly improve the reading comprehension of our pupils.  For some there is a speech and language issue; others it is about decoding and fluency; we’ve no agreed way to approach a text in a lesson; most pupils don’t read enough and many of those that do read a very narrow range of fiction; there is currently no time in the secondary school curriculum to read and at a primary level the curriculum may be too narrow and fail to develop knowledge sufficiently in RE, Science and what we call topic.

Rather than a single problem with reading we have seven different issues that will need to be addressed.  It feels overwhelming to consider all at once; we need a multi-year, carefully sequences, well-resourced plan that takes into account the day to day priorities of planning, teaching and assessment alongside other long term priorities.

School and teaching improvement needs to become a disciplined process rather than a throwing around of kitchen sinks.  Think about the kitchen sinks being thrown around your own classroom; what could you stop doing before you become exhausted?



4 thoughts on “Focus on Getting Better at Getting Better

  1. Very helpful overview – thank you.

    Posted by jonford2014 | February 11, 2018, 5:00 pm
  2. I applaud the concept of doing less but doing it better. Given though the example you give of Flash marking, what happens when a whole school approach goes down the wrong alley? We saw this with the hours given over to NC and levels, assessment for learning etc. I agree it takes years to see the long term improvement take hold in school, probably liter than individual headships last. That’s the challenge; how do you keep school development stay on course when the captain is changing, the compass is being redesigned and the resources for renew and repair are too scarce? In my view, Simon Seneks’ philosophy of work on the why first, then the how’s. ..The what’s are necessary, and need to be known, but only approached using the ‘how’. Schools need to have a good fix on ALL their how’s. .and have the intellectual grasp of what that means – Behaviour management is a What, Zero tolerance a failed How for example. In FM, many subjects, Art, music, design, ICT, PE, just don’t need to waste tear time on a FM coding approach, and the leading disciplines of English and Maths are dipoles. ..

    Posted by jameswilding | February 13, 2018, 8:27 am
  3. Auto correct! liter = longer, tear= teacher.

    Posted by jameswilding | February 13, 2018, 8:31 am


  1. Pingback: 5 Tips for Creating a More Evidence Informed School | @LeadingLearner - May 20, 2018

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