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Friday, 19 September 2014

Guest post from James Penny



In the below James Penny, shared his thoughts with me about what makes an outstanding school -

1. Teachers and Leaders are key

Teachers and leaders are the most significant actors in reform. In reforming organisations teachers and leaders are not abandoned or left alone without support and challenge. Teachers are encouraged to work with each other and to ask questions about what was effective and why. Social media is becoming a critical tool for sharing and exchanging ideas on what works. Complacency is not tolerated and there are no assumptions that the personal circumstances of a learner should dictate outcomes. There is no acceptance of a local ‘ripple in the gene pool’ so comments like: ‘This is the best our kids can do’ are not tolerated. The organisation sees their remit extending beyond the physical site into the surrounding community.

2. Professional Rigour

The organisation focuses on high quality outcomes. Difficult questions, like teacher effectiveness, are not ignored. They are tackled head on, quickly and with professional rigour. Organisations ask challenging questions about how resources are deployed, utilised and implemented. Every resource is reviewed from staff to buildings to books to technology. Nothing is assumed and nothing is ignored.

3. Leaders are critical

High quality education leaders are strong and purposeful, they enthuse their organisation with a compelling vision, share insights and expertise, hold people to account, celebrate success and tirelessly focus on Learning, Teaching and Outcomes.

4. It’s All About Learning – Not technology

The organisation understands the difference between technology to run back office systems and technology that is applied to the teaching and learning process. They do not conflate the two. They do not question the role technology has in providing high quality support systems like HR, Payroll, email, communication systems, data tracking, monitoring and analysis. They do not look at the technology to improve outcomes but they do understand that technology is part of the process of achieving outstanding outcomes. They do not allow an individual or personal obsession with a particular technology to dictate the use of technology, instead they evaluate and share the effectiveness of technology on a wide range of activities and outcomes and as part of the other resources they have at their disposal. They do not confuse the process of education with outcomes and they ask reflective questions about why they should use technology BEFORE they ask What technology should be used. Decisions about technology are made by senior leaders, the technology support function implements the decisions. Learning drives change not technology, but the potential for technology to support alternative approaches is considered, understood and embedded into the organisation.

5. Use what works best

‘Physical’ and ‘virtual’ are indistinguishable. Where virtual works best it is used, where traditional works best it is used. Organisations recognise the complexity of the system they inhabit but create simplicity. They are happy to make changes to any part of the system. None of them see technology as a magic bullet, although to curry favour with technology companies they will make statements about the effectiveness of technology if this leads to support or additional resources for less cost.

6. Facilities matter

Buildings and surroundings are important but are not considered to make a difference on their own in the same way that technology on its own is not the key.

Where possible the design of the facilities is carefully considered with an eye on creating spaces where circulation is easy and facilities are well laid out. Buildings are an integral part of the learning environment but success can still be achieved if buildings are not perfect. Attention to detail is paramount with small and cost effective changes being implemented to provide clean and well maintained facilities where people like to spend time.

James Penny is Solutions Director at European Electronique - read James' full biography at - - http://www.allaboutlearning.org.uk/biography/