Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beating the odds in English high schools

Few of the schools featured here were born great; they had to achieve greatness. This narrative starts in the early nineties. This was the time when many of the headteachers took up their posts, drawn to challenges which others eschewed
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There should be no misconceptions: turning around the fortunes of a flagging school in challenging circumstances is very hard work and requires unwavering self-belief and perseverance. Improved results do not come easily and there can be setbacks.
And yet, Twelve Outstanding Secondary Schools have pulled it off, based on high performance in English testing and school inspections. With above average eligibility for free school meals, their work qualifies as beating the poverty odds, something we've cheered before in Kentucky.

They delivered those results at the high school level, something rare enough here that we have no systematic reports on how it can be done.

And they've done it for long enough that the report (available here) can start with how they became excellent and move on their strategies for sustaining excellence and the ways they are sharing their methods more widely.

Key elements of the schools' success include:
• They excel at what they do, not just occasionally but for a high proportion of the time.
• They prove constantly that disadvantage need not be a barrier to achievement, that speaking English as an additional language can support academic success and that schools really can be learning communities.
• They put students first, invest in their staff and nurture their communities.
• They have strong values and high expectations that are applied consistently and never relaxed.
• They fulfil individual potential through providing outstanding teaching, rich opportunities for learning, and encouragement and support for each student.
• They are highly inclusive, having complete regard for the educational progress, personal development and well-being of every student.
• Their achievements do not happen by chance, but by highly reflective, carefully planned and implemented strategies which serve these schools well in meeting the many challenges which obstruct the path to success.
• They operate with a very high degree of internal consistency.
• They are constantly looking for ways to improve further.
• They have outstanding and well-distributed leadership.
The delight, of course, is in the individual stories that litter the report. It's the tale of students who might easily have fallen short but instead are reaching high goals. Even more, it's the tale of educators who have found ways to make that happen for students over and over again. I commend it to your happy reading.

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