RAPID SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT

A. Riggall

Education Development Trust (UNITED KINGDOM)
Policy makers and educators all over the world wrestle with the problem of how to improve government schools. Findings from a recent research project conducted by Educational Development Trust offer practical insights and inspirations for anyone involved in the challenging business of bringing about rapid school improvement.

There are about 20,000 government-funded primary and secondary schools in England. They are all subject to inspection by the national schools inspectorate for England known as Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). According to Ofsted a very small proportion of the government schools have recently improved dramatically from a previous low baseline. Ofsted uses a 4 point scale to categorise school quality. Using Ofsted data we calculated that there were 360 schools that, in the previous two years or less, had moved from being graded by Ofsted as ‘inadequate’ (category 4) to being graded as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ (category 2 or 1, respectively). Ofsted is widely known for the robustness of its methods and teachers in England consider that Ofsted inspectors are difficult to please. So it is a great achievement when a school categorised as inadequate is, within a short period, officially designated as good or outstanding.

In 2016 Education Development Trust investigated the experience of an unusually interesting group of government-funded primary and secondary schools in England. We calculated that of the 20,000 schools just 360 met the criteria. These schools had improved dramatically moving from the lowest inspection categorisation of ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’ or better in one inspection cycle (two years).

We wanted to know more about these schools and 100 took part in our in-depth qualitative research. School leaders, governors and teachers provided valuable insight into the causes of transformation in the performance of their schools.

Methods included:
• Analysis of the existing literature on rapid school improvement
• Survey of headteachers
• Semi-structured interviews with a sub-sample of the surveyed headteachers
• School case studies – a ‘triangulation’ exercise with a sub set of six schools

Our research shows that teaching quality was central in the improvement journeys of all the schools. School leaders in these schools focused on:
1) the diagnosis of weaknesses in teaching and learning and
2) the improvement of teaching quality. In all schools the process of enabling teachers to fulfil their potential as drivers of transformation was vital.

The school leaders also paid great attention to monitoring and motivation, to distributing and building leadership across the staff and to building coalitions for improvement.

The research has a significance beyond England. The issue of school underperformance is one that affects all countries. This research provides practical insight into the way real schools have addressed this very real issue.