December 2013


  • Education's five key aims
    Every parent wants their child to go to a good school and politicians and policy makers share a s similar ambition to ensure that all schools are good. So how do we make it happen? More
  • Expanding horizons
    Bill Lucas explores the concept of expansive education and what it means for teaching and learning. More
  • Life after levels?
    The government’s decision to abandon levels and leave individual schools to decide how to measure progress is understandably causing concern. However, says Andrew Thraves, many schools are already planning for a life without levels and some schools have already adopted a new system of day-to-day assessment. More
  • Clubbing together
    Youth workers who help with mentoring, PSHE and after-school clubs can also be a powerful tool in keeping students motivated and on track with learning. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Revision time
    The introduction of performance-related pay, although controversial, offers an ideal opportunity for fresh thinking on how leaders manage change, says Edward Gildea. More
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Every parent wants their child to go to a good school and politicians and policy makers share a s similar ambition to ensure that all schools are good. So how do we make it happen?

Educations's five key aims

We know that improving the quality of teaching and learning and the leadership of learning can help us realise the ambition to make all schools good. Research from key educationalists and organisations from England and around the world suggests that there are five key components to achieving this goal. (See a list of the relevant research at the end of this debate paper:

Improve the quality of teaching and teachers

Improving the quality of teaching and teachers is crucial to improving outcomes for students and the performance of the education system. Students who learn with the best teachers can progress up to three times as fast as those placed with low-performing teachers. Improving the quality of teachers and teaching should involve:

  • attracting the most able graduates into the profession
  • operating effective and appropriate Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programmes
  • creating successful professional development pathways
  • supporting teachers to be expert ‘knowledge workers’ who constantly strive to improve their classroom practice
  • enabling leading practitioners to model practice, provide instruction to their peers and coach other colleagues
  • putting in place effective and rigorous teacher performance management

High-quality leadership

The quality of school leadership is second only to teaching with respect to the affect on student outcomes. Good leaders achieve this by building a shared vision based on high expectations for all young people. They then develop the strategies, the leadership team, the development programmes and quality assurance (QA) systems to improve the quality of teaching and learning and student outcomes.

Effective leaders do not necessarily work longer hours than their peers but are more likely to spend their time visiting classrooms, coaching teachers and leaders, talking with students and parents and involving and supporting their leadership team.

Increasingly, school leaders have autonomy to lead and run their schools within a framework of accountability. But in the best systems, this operates within a culture where leaders feel responsible for the outcomes and life chances of young people from their own school and other schools in the area.

The best schools and school systems also spot and nurture leadership talent and potential from the offset through a formal professional development programme, charting clear progression routes, providing opportunities to practise leadership skills and by using experienced school leaders as coaches and mentors.

School-to-school support

Schools working in partnership provides a faster, deeper and more sustainable model for improving performance than if each school was to act in isolation. Where partnerships are properly structured and led, they prove their worth in terms of increases in attainment and in Ofsted grading.

School-to-school partnerships also add value as stronger schools apply their proven systems and leadership expertise to the challenges faced by struggling schools. Crucially, they also provide the basis for developing the capability and capacity of teachers – many of whom thrive on the opportunity to work with and learn from others.

Partnership is not a one-way street; there is plenty of evidence that shows how ‘stronger’ schools in a partnership also gain from the experience including varied professional development opportunities, broader curriculum offers, accelerated leadership development, improved teaching and learning and stronger governance.

Balanced accountability frameworks

Accountability arrangements can help incentivise educational improvement but need to achieve the right balance between holding schools and school leaders to account and supporting schools to improve.

The best accountability systems include broader student learning objectives and encourage schools to be aspirational. Crucially, they are more likely to lead to improvement if they focus on information relevant to teaching and learning and motivating teachers and schools to use that information to compare practice with other schools. So, top-down government performance goals need to be combined with bottom-up capacity building for schools.

Cohesion and coordination

Initiatives to promote school improvement need to be coherently coordinated and aligned. A recent report highlights what has been learned over the last 20 years about making effective, large-scale improvement in the quality of school systems (see below).

Government policies

The government would argue that it is acting on many of these school improvement principles already. However, some government critics question whether all of the Department for Education programmes are sufficiently well-grounded in evidence and their implementation thought through. Others are more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this but argue that the government’s strategies fail the fifth school improvement principle: T They are not sufficiently integrated and cohesive to constitute a convincing school improvement strategy for all schools in England.

Finally, the sceptics maintain that reform, particularly curriculum reform, is being done to rather than with schools and the teaching profession. The knowledge and expertise of school leaders is often not being sought and even when it is, it is ignored.

This article is a shorter version of the debate paper that sets the scene for the second topic in the Great Education Debate: Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning and the Leadership of Learning. Read the whole paper and give your views at

Hallmarks of an effective system-wide school improvement strategy*

An effective, system-wide change strategy requires the following elements: 1 A small number of ambitious yet achievable and well-grounded goals, publicly stated. 2 A positive and motivational approach towards securing teachers’ enthusiasm and commitment to improving all schools and success for all students. 3 An emphasis on building the capacity of schools and teachers to improve performance, coupled with a focus on results. 4 Engagement with leadership at all levels of the school system to build a ‘guiding coalition’ for change. 5 Continuous learning through innovation and effective use of research and data. 6 A focus on key goals and strategies while also managing other interests and issues. 7 Effective use of resources based on evidence and informed decisions. 8 A strong implementation effort to support the change process.

* Source: Levin, B, 2012, System-wide Improvement in Education, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) and the International Academy of Education (IAE).

Have your say on the second debate

We want to know your views on all of the issues discussed in this article. Here are a few questions you may like to consider:

  • What are the characteristics of an excellent teacher?
  • What needs to be done in order to attract, develop, recruit and support the next generation of school leaders?
  • What are the hallmarks of the best joint working between schools?
  • How should we ensure that school and college leaders are incentivised to work with and support other schools when accountability measures focus on levels of attainment in individual schools?
  • How could the government build greater ownership of an agreed school improvement strategy across England?
  • Post your views at

ASCL wants to know your views on all of these issues and questions. Here’s how you can get involved:

Host a debate in your school or college and capture everyone’s views by video or by taking notes and email them to

Join us on Facebook at

Tweet us @GreatEdDebate and also use the hashtag #GEDebate

Join the discussion and post your views on the website where you can also download a resource pack.