School Improvement In the UK

At one level school improvement is a approach of schools achieving organizational development and growth. At another level school improvement has a moral purpose and is essentially associated to the life-chances and achievements of all students. School improvement is basically concerning building communities and instituting positive relationships within those communities. It has at its center the fundamental belief that schools can and does make a difference and that this difference can be considerably enhanced. Rutter et al. 1979:13) give one of the most encouraged statements about school improvement by highlighting that the factors that persuade school performance are ‘open to amendment by staff rather than fixed by external constraints’. In other words, schools can progress, schools can transform and school performance is not a fixed or predetermined entity. Evidence would imply that those schools engaged in improvement activities build communities that are joint and empowering. They promote positive relationships and permit all voices to be heard and accredited.
In this sense, school improvement means moving from a culture of individualism to what Clarke (2000:7) calls ‘a transformed sense of social responsibility’. So, what’s in it for schools? At its most thoughtful, it is about making a difference to the lives of young people as well as at its most realistic it is about knowing how to do this most efficiently. It is obvious that schools that put in the development of their teachers also put efforts in the development of the school. While teachers are given power to act and are implicated in the development of the school there is more prospective for school growth.
Hopkins (2001) concluded that “teachers’ involvement is one of ten essential principles for what he calls authentic school improvement”. In a climate of collegiality rather than likability teachers are more expected to trust one another and to support innovation and change (Barth, 1990). Barth (1990:158) illustrates a school as ‘four walls surrounding a future’. This image detains the potency and prospect of school improvement. It reminds us that school improvement is much more than heaving test scores or increasing grades. Its core lies in building school communities that are joint, inclusive and eventually empowering.

For it is only within such communities that the prospective of both students and teachers will be completely realized. It is this objective that lies at the heart of school improvement and make certain that schools remain places where, primarily learning matters. Schools are able of improving themselves if the conditions are right and the relations within the school are encouraging of change. It will inexorably be more difficult to form the optimum internal conditions in the face of persistent external change. Schools are presently caught between the demands of policy-makers and the desires of the students and parents in their community.
Fullan (1999) argues that schools are inexorably pulled in two directions, by established and less stable forces, and that ‘the dynamics of the successful organization are of asymmetrical cycles and discontinuous trends’ (Fullan, 1999:4). Therefore, by building strong professional communities schools will be more capable to swim with the deluge of external reform and will be more skilled at coping with the pressures of external change. There are many projects that are initiated with the lap of time to attain school improvement in UK.
The IQEA school improvement project provides an interesting paradigm of how a school improvement project can develop. What began as a complete school staff development initiative, ultimately transformed itself into a school improvement initiative with a total assurance to enhancing classroom practice. The overall aim of IQEA is ‘to make and appraise a model of school development and a programme of support, that supports a school’s capability to provide quality education for all its pupils by building upon accessible good practice’ (Hopkins et al. , 1994).
In the project, approaches and methods from the development and effectiveness paradigms are mixed together; particularly, these comprise use of and work on improvement and change processes with contribution on school and classroom effectiveness and measurement of outcomes. Hopkins and Ainscow, 1993 outline five postulation on which they based later phases of the project: • School improvement is a procedure that focuses on enhancing the quality of students’ education. • The vision of the school must be one which holds all members of the school community as both learners and providers. The school will see in exterior pressures for change significant opportunities to secure its inner priorities. • The school will inquire to develop structures and make conditions which persuade collaboration and show the way to the empowerment of individuals and groups. • The school will search to promote the view that monitoring and assessment quality is a job which all members of staff share. The project, which began with just nine schools in 1991, has grown each year, and presently involves in many schools in several areas of the country.
A contract is approved between school staff, the Local Education Authority and the project team. All staff of a school has to concur that the school will take part, and at least forty percent receive release time to take on specific project-related activities in their own as well as each other’s classrooms, though all staff participate in certain IQEA-focused staff development events. At least two staff members are chosen as coordinators and attend ten days of training and support meetings, for which authorization is offered.
The school selects its own priorities for development as well as its own methods to attain these priorities. It also participates in the assessment of the project and has to consign itself to share findings with other contributors in the project. The unique conceptualization of the project was based on the understanding that effective change strategies center not only on the implementation of central policies or chosen initiatives, but also on forming the conditions within schools that can protract the teaching-learning process.
From their work on the IQEA project, there were known a series of conditions that underpinned the work of these successful schools (Hopkins and Ainscow, 1993). Broadly stated, the conditions are: • Staff development • Involvement • Leadership • Coordination • Enquiry and reflection • Collaborative planning. As work persistent with IQE A schools on the building of ‘capacity’ in these areas, the project personnel began to observe a number of aspects influencing how particular conditions can best put in to a ‘moving school’ ethos (Rosenholtz, 1989).
As significance they began to expand a series of propositions concerning the relationship between the way a school approaches a particular condition and the collision of that condition on the school’s capability to hold the key to the setting up of a school culture which can significantly allow all teachers within the school community (Hopkins and West, 1994). These six conditions and the interrelated propositions were the center of early work with the IQEA project schools.
Consequently, the project began to center some of its research energies on to what was formerly thought to be a parallel set of conditions which linked to the idea of capacity at the classroom level. These conditions were linked to teacher development, much in the same way as the unusual set of conditions were linked to school development. As such, they were made-up to be transferable across classrooms and between teachers, and linked to a variety of teaching-learning initiatives designed to develop the achievement of students.
At this stage, the project adapted a ‘Framework for School Improvement’ (Hopkins et al. , 1994) to state the relationship, as it then saw it, between school and classroom conditions, and the development of development in schools. Other school improvement projects which are organic in nature are those that are based upon a partnership model with schools and the local education authority (LEA). The ‘Schools Make a Difference’ project in London and the Lewisham School Improvement project describe this type of approach.
The Lewisham School Improvement Project commenced in the spring of 1993 and arose out of a partnership between Lewisham schools, Lewisham Local Education Authority (LEA) and the University Of London Institute Of Education. It has four aims: • to boost pupil progress, accomplishment and development; • to build up the internal capacity of schools for managing change and appraising its impact at: Whole school level; Classroom level; Student level; • to develop the capability of the LEA to give data to schools that will support their ability to plan and assess change; To assimilate the above with the system’s ongoing in-service and support services to figure a coherent approach to professional development. The project has some dimensions, though these overlap to some extent: Leadership development-a progression of voluntary five-day workshops (‘Leaders Together’) with head teachers as well as deputy head teachers across the borough of Lewisham, who work with a partner throughout and between sessions. Topics covered include and emphasize the significance of leadership and management of school effectiveness and school improvement.
School projects-more intensive work with a preliminary pilot group of ten schools (primary, secondary and special schools are characterized), the heads and deputies of who have contributed in the initial workshops. A succeeding group of schools has consequently been involved. These schools have recognized a focus for improvement and learning, and cross-role project teams attend several sessions in which they work with Institute facilitators to process their focus areas through analysis of school-based data.
They are as well introduced to the school effectiveness and school improvement research findings, with a special accent on their role as change agents within their schools. The title of the workshop series, ‘Moving Together’, reflects the optimistic impact on school improvement of teachers learning together (Rosenholtz, 1989). Endorsement has been offered for course and project work. Indicators creation-a voluntary group of fifteen teachers, head-teachers, LEA advisers and officers have recognized and developed LEA and whole school indicators of change, development and achievement, with a focus on pupils through special educational needs.
These indicators will be accessible to schools when evaluating their effectiveness regarding individual pupils’ progress, whole school systems and worth for money. They will also give data to inform the LEA’s strategic planning, comprising its resourcing and monitoring role. Monitoring and evaluation-evaluation of change is basic to the project, and the question ‘Has it made a difference? ‘ is a frequent theme. The purpose is for the project itself to represent appropriate evaluation procedures and to reveal effectiveness, as well as encouraging and supporting schools to assess their own effectiveness.
The LEA collects borough-wide data on examination results, attendance and absenteeism, exclusions and staff absence data, broken down by gender along with ethnicity for each school. Pupil baseline data at age 11 also comprise the London Reading Test and a group reading test to be finished by all pupils throughout their first month in secondary school and are supplemented by a complementary test at the end of their first year.
The accessible data will facilitate evaluation of the project’s effectiveness in the pilot secondary schools against LEA averages, against other matched schools, and longitudinally. Some similar data subsist for primary aged pupils. At present, however, the capability for monitoring and evaluating efficiency in primary schools is limited, and pilot primary schools are being assisted to increase appropriate indicators (Stoll and Thomson, 1996).
The Halton Effective Schools teacher survey (Stoll, 1992) has been modified to be completed by staff in all the pilot schools and in a group of coordinated schools. It will be repeated after two years. The schools themselves also give regular progress reports, addressing issues linking to success criteria, baseline data and development to date. An Institute researcher has carried out interviews in pilot schools, and LEA Link advisers finished questionnaires on their viewpoint of individual schools’ progress.
Interviews have also been carried out with key members of the LEA, together with the director. Follow-up interviews are planned. More current school progress reports reveal the increased emphasis on changing classroom practice and opportunities for student learning (Teddlie and Reynolds, 1999, 301). For instance, in an update in September 1994 the deputy head teacher of the special school observed that the first year was mainly devoted to the groundwork of staff-centered input and contribution, and teaching and appraisal strategy development.
This year, with these structures in place, the focus has shifted to students in the classroom. According to Fidler’s (1997) idea that “no particular organizational structure is most effective in a given situation, for loosely coupled or even ‘fuzzy’ structures” “Increasing economic rationalism in society may be evident in schools with little value placed on whether students are happy or enjoying school.
Curricula related to personal, social, and health education have become devalued, as they are not measurable quantities in the view of education authorities” (Morley & Rassool, 1999, p. 1). Schools implicated in the more detailed project work are a special school that caters for students who have rigorous learning difficulties and are between the ages of 11 and 19 years. The school has reported that ‘Leaders Together’ has given them with the impulsion to work as a staff to write novel prospectus group-based schemes of work.
For their project they have chosen to center on reporting and assessment so as to develop a system that will both sustain the UK’s National Curriculum and permit for the marked differentiation between students that subsists in their school. Part of the cultural conditions of the school which they as well wish to integrate into the project is the contribution of their non-teaching staff. A primary school also implicated in the project has determined on students’ writing, the curriculum center from the school’s development plan.
The staff as a whole have already spent time eloquent their vision and aims for the school, and they have explored and coordinated a diversity of strategies that comprise: analysis of the school’s own statistics on attainment; using pertinent research findings to inform practice; paired classroom observations; staff development session; annual targets for individual teachers linked to the aims of the project; and the development of a usually known and agreed monitoring scheme to be used by the head teacher and languages teacher while they visit classrooms and give feedback to teachers.
Governors and effectiveness-more recent corresponding work with governing bodies of numerous schools who have been introduced to school effectiveness and school improvement issues and are working through them as they relay to their own role in promoting better school effectiveness. Dissemination-dissemination within and beyond the LEA takes place. The last two yearly head and deputy head conferences have taken school improvement as their theme.
Schools and their LEA partners also allocate experiences and understandings gained locally, around the country and in other LEAs, at Institute of Education conferences, and national and international research conferences. A presentation to the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement on the work of the project integrated the three partners in the project: the Institute, the LEA and the schools. In early 1993, Hammersmith and Fulham LEA recognized the Schools Make a Difference Project to assist the borough’s eight secondary schools heave student levels of attainment, achievement and morale (Myers, 1995).
While association to the project was optional, all eight schools in the ability chose to participate. The project’s guiding principles were based on school effectiveness research findings. These principles were: • that students require to believe that schooling can be valuable and relevant; • that learning should be challenging and relevant, to support students to build up their capabilities as responsible, considerate and active citizens; • that students’ rational, personal and technical abilities, abilities and capabilities are recognized and valued, and that expectations of development and performance are high; that good behavior is a essential condition for effective learning, and that students take accountability for their own behavior and present a high level of engagement in a well planned learning process;
• that parental participation is vital and must be sought; • that all staff in the schools are involved in, and devoted to, the school’s development; • that schools as well as the community work towards a shared vision and that a professional learning community is formed within schools; • that head teachers have a fundamental role to play in providing a climate where this can take place; That a ‘plan, do and review’ approach is thoroughly and rigorously applied. Hammersmith and Fulham LEA had chosen a project manager to work with schools and LEA personnel to found the structures and procedures for the project. Within her role she made usual visits to the schools and took the schools’ senior management teams to visit schools of interest around the country. In combination with head teachers and higher education staff, she has also organized in-service training for the coordinators, head teachers, senior management teams and various other staff members.
The schools all chosen project coordinators, who were awarded thirty half days of ‘cover’ by other staff so as to carry out work linked with the project in their schools, attend in-service training sessions and visit other schools. Coordinators receive authorization for their course and project work through the London Institute of Education. The coordinators recognized project working parties in their schools that integrated representation from a wide range of teaching and support staff and, in some schools, from students, parents and governors.
Every school produced a project plan based on criterion agreed by the head teachers for expenditure of the project budget. The plan was developed as a consequence of wide consultation, and integrated a project focus based on the school’s development plan. Numerous schools chose as a focus supple learning strategies, and engaged in a diversity of forms of staff development to help bring in new teaching and student study methods to staff. In one school, for instance, the eight voluntary members of the SMAD Development Group determined to pair up with a partner to take on in classroom observation and act as every other’s ‘critical friend’.
Supply cover for this has been integrated within the school’s project plan. The project also funded school-based revision centers throughout the Easter vacation that have already helped raise student engagement. The project’s findings, as highlighted by its external assessor (Pocklington, 1995) were that, as there was and generally rise in student achievement across all of the schools in 1993-94, differing rates of progress were attained across the eight schools. hough it is difficult to attribute improvement to particular aspects of the project, probable contributors were examination revision canters as well as coursework clinics, celebratory events, an emphasis in the majority schools on student consultation, students’ responses to improvements to the physical environment, and ‘the beginnings of transforming the leading ethos in the pupil sub-culture’ (Pocklington, 1995:125). Four factors emerged to bear considerably on the degree to which the project was successful in each school: Hiring of a practically full-time project manager;
Appointment of a controller in each school; Partnership between the manager and head teacher; Establishment of a group in each school to ease and oversee project accomplishment. SMAD and Lewisham School Improvement Project Both have particularly emphasized the role of the LEA in development as well as change. The impulsion for change in these projects is locally owned, outwardly supported and school-initiated. In all of these projects external support, though often welcomed, is not completely necessary all through the project as the school searches out and forms its own support networks.
Disclosure to new ideas and practices, collaboration through consortium or ‘pairing’ arrangements are common in this kind of school improvement work. Primarily, programmes of this type interface at the complete school level but provide much-needed sustain and incentive for change at the classroom level. At the other end of the school improvement range are projects which fall into the mechanistic category in the respect that they advocate or set a particular approach to school improvement. Early examples of such approaches take in the self-managing approach to school improvement developed in the mid-eighties (Caldwell and Spinks, 1988).
This approach has been extensively disseminated and is based upon a management cycle that has six phases, i. e. goal-setting, policy-making, planning, groundwork, implementation and assessment. Though this cycle is now comparatively commonplace, this ‘step by step’ approach has not proved successful with all schools. It is obvious that this instrumental approach and others like it do not take into account the changeability of schools and school context. Such mechanistic approaches presuppose consistency both within the organization and across organizations.
The High Reliability Schools project in the UK characterizes a school improvement project intended to make sure that there are high levels of traditionalism between schools. This project is premised upon work by Stringfield (1995) which argues that educational systems have much to learn from the organizational processes of extremely reliable organizations within the corporate as well as state-owned sectors. The characteristics of highly consistent organizations take in effective training programmes, concentration on a few goals, standard operation procedures, attention to minor detail and identifying and rectifying weak links (Reynolds et al. 1996). The research concerning High Reliability Schools (HRS) is continuing but some evaluative proof is available. The message from this work is that ‘HRS principles and technology and the emphasis upon dependability are all generative of improved student outcomes but that optimum gain requires a consistent delivery system at project and school level’ (Stringfield et al. , 2001:36). It is obvious that success with HRS relies on schools taking on the model fully without the prospect of modification.
The project in its promotional material frequently utilizes aircraft analogies, arguing, for instance, that if one is in a holding pattern over Heathrow Airport, it is not reassuring to note that one has the technology to land the plane however might not use it, or that only thirty per cent of air traffic controllers are effective air traffic controllers, or that we are trying to do something by understanding the ineffective air traffic controllers but have not quite managed it thus far. Because of the cost, both human and financial, of any failure, the plane should land.
Recent estimates suggest the cost of needless school failure within the United States to be the equal of a plane crash every week, yet little is done to put off school failure and much is done to avert air traffic controller failure. The characteristics of these HROs have been determined to be as follows: • They train extensively, pre-service and in-service, in order to eliminate operational flaws. When training, all levels of an organization act as respondents on the effectiveness of all levels, in a process of mutual monitoring; The goals of the HROs are few and explicit (the job of the air traffic controller is to land the plane, not to relate socially to the pilot! ); • There is a body of knowledge about practice that is codified into SOPs-Standard Operating Procedures-which tell people how to behave in the event of any contingency; • Great attention is given to minor errors, since the belief is that these could cascade into major system failure;
• Simulations to identify weak links are always being run, with direct action being taken to identify the trailing edge and to make it more effective; The organizations are well resourced, and equipment is kept in good order. (Reynolds 1998, 1-4) Underlying the reasons for the existence of all the organizational procedures is the belief that system failure or unreliability would generate costs that are too heavy for a society to bear. With eight secondary schools, working in close association with Sam Stringfield of Johns Hopkins University in the United States and David Reynolds of Newcastle University’s Department of Education, a programme has been developed to model schools on these highly reliable organizations from other fields outside education.
The programme consists of the following: • All the schools have joined a performance indicator system that generates high quality data upon student achievement, the ALIS (‘A’ Level Information System) and YELLIS (Year Eleven Information System) schemes pioneered by Fitz-Gibbon and colleagues at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (Fitz-Gibbon, 1992). These data feed back to schools their relative performance on their different public examination subjects, and relate directly to the effectiveness of their departments. • All the schools are testing their intake of new pupils as they arrive from junior school.
The testing will be repeated at the beginning of each school year, for these pupils plus for the new intake of pupils. Ultimately all pupils will be tested annually. These data will reveal those pupils who have unrealized potential, plus a ‘gain score’ will be provided for each year that will be a baseline. • The schools will be provided with the best knowledge available as their standard operating practices. Schools make available two of their five in-service days each year for ‘HRS’ activities. One day will be for a formal knowledge input of school effectiveness/school improvement knowledge.
The other day will be for an input of teacher effectiveness knowledge, plus in both days some skilling of whole school staffs. Both days will be oriented around background pre-reading, formal presentations and more group related activities. Schools are to adopt up to four goals to be their ‘HRS’ goals. Two project-wide goals will be academic achievement (e. g. percentage of students with five or more GCSEs at grade A-C, staying on rate, percentage of students with five or more GCSEs at grade A-G, plus GNVQ outcomes as appropriate), and the unauthorized absence rate.
Up to two other goals, which must permit measurement, will also be chosen by each school to reflect school needs, priorities, developmental status etc. (Reynolds 1998, 1-4) Thus, despite differences of approach, highly effective school improvement projects have been found to share certain characteristics or features. A broad comparative analysis of highly successful programmes demonstrates a number of shared principles or features (Harris, 2000c). This analysis found that effective school improvement programmes: • focus closely on classroom improvement; utilize discrete instructional or pedagogical strategies, i. e. they are explicit in the models of teaching they prescribe; • apply pressure at the implementation stage to ensure adherence to the programme;
• collect systematic evaluative evidence about the impact upon schools and classrooms; • mobilize change at a numbers of levels within the organization, e. g. classroom, department, teacher level; • generate cultural as well as structural change; • engage teachers in professional dialogue and development; • provide external agency and support. Harris, 2000c) This comparison showed that as the school improvement programmes and projects assorted in terms of content, nature and approach they imitated a similar philosophy. Central to this philosophy is an observance to the school as the centre of change and the teacher as the means for classroom change and development. Within highly effective school development programmes the non-negotiable elements are a center on teaching and learning, an obligation to professional development and diffused or devolved leadership.
As new school improvement projects and initiatives appear to emerge daily, evidence concerning their collision is not always forth-coming. Critics of the school improvement field have highlighted the virtual absence of evaluative evidence concerning the impact of school improvement upon student performance and achievement. Additionally, there has been little deliberation of the relative effectiveness of different school improvement initiative in enhancing student performance. The studies that do subsist offer little evidence concerning the relative efficiency of one approach over another.
Further comparative studies of school improvement are desired to assist schools in selecting development programmes that are most effectual and ‘fit’ their developmental needs. Presently, there is an accumulating knowledge base concerning school improvement arising from the numerous projects as well as programmes around the world. Moreover I believe that in order to improve and to protract improvement over time schools need to build and raise a sense of professional community. In the most effective schools, there is proof of positive relationships both within and outside the school.
Barth (1990:45) portrays a professional community as ‘one where adults and students learn and each energizes and puts in the learning of the other’. A professional community is one in which there are collective norms and values amongst teachers and students. These norms and values symbolize the fundamental beliefs of those within the community and become the central purpose of the school. To build a professional community needs schools to think the type of school culture that reigns and to seek ways of changing it for the better. Learning within an organization is most favorable in an environment of shared leadership and shared power.
To promote such an environment needs team work, collaboration and an assurance to enquiry. Connections are mainly important in building community. As Sergiovanni (2001:63) notes, ‘community is something most of us desire in order to experience the sense and meaning that we require in our lives. We cannot go it alone. We have to be connected somehow, somewhere. Community is a mainly important source of connection for children and young people. ’ If the needs of students to belong are not met by the school then they will get belonging outside the school.
In schools that are improving there are communal norms, shared values, decided goals and common aspirations. These are schools where the social relationships are functional and where trust and deference are at the heart of all developmental work. This does not occur by possibility but results from the premeditated effort of staff and students to communicate and to work together with one another. Sergiovanni (2001) notes that such ‘communities of responsibility’ are far from easy to develop but are necessary to generate and protract school improvement over time.

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