The basics for any great school have traditionally been effective governance and financial management coupled with a competent head teacher with a quality staff team.
Of course, you also need a recognised curriculum and assessment framework and suitable facilities.
However, the question of how you teach and what you expect of students is becoming increasing important if the school is to satisfy the expectations of parents and teachers.
A whole school framework for teaching and learning has moved from being something found only in some schools to an essential part of the school’s positioning. It has become key to both student recruitment and maintaining a high quality staff team.
Recently some friends decided to move to a new part of the country and were looking for a school for their children. They did exactly what all admissions and marketing teams know parents do. They looked around at what was on offer and then did their research. They read the websites, asked around and also checked out informally using forums and community groups. In the end they had a short list of three and then went to visit. Following the visits they made their choice.
“Parents have a long list of requirements and that includes their own child being successful.”
Nothing new here. It has always been the case that marketing teams have worked to position their school in order to recruit, at its best that is a science in itself. But in an increasingly competitive and demanding market where the need to stand out from the crowd is important, it is proving to be more difficult than ever.
Our feedback from working with over 100 schools in UK independent schools and British internationals schools suggests that parents are definitely becoming more savvy consumers. They are paying fees and they want to see value for money – and what that looks like is different for different families. They have a long list of requirements and that includes their own child being successful.
Parents, as part of their research, look at the quality of teaching and the quality of teachers in any prospective school. Whilst some schools promote themselves on the basis of their academic results and others focus more on the development of a rounded individual, most parents now want both. Academic success for their own child but also an education that equips their child to succeed and thrive in their future lives. They look at the external inspection reports alongside their investigation of the website.
Recruiting and retaining high quality teachers is tough. A strong physics teacher is in as short supply as a premier league footballer and schools can’t just stretch their budgets in response and offer a suitably high salary package. To attract and retain high quality staff in a competitive market, the school needs to be able to demonstrate to teachers that the school is at the forefront of professional thinking, an invigorating place to work and somewhere where they will find job satisfaction.
“The school must show teachers that it is at the forefront of professional thinking.”
Parents also want to know what kind of a school they are looking at. They are interested in its vision and mission. What does the school value and see as important? This gives a clue as to what they will be prioritising. The traditional section of the website which hosts the head’s welcome message often gives a strong insight into the tone or “brand personality” of the school. It’s the first clue to how this school sees the world. It can, at its best, convey a forward-looking or progressive approach which excites prospective parents.
But a good vision is only relevant if it is reflected in what actually happens day-to-day in school. In many schools the vision is just words on paper and does not drive practice in the school.
The value of a good teaching and learning framework is that it connects the vision to the classroom and at the same time creates a consistent language which communicates that education message securely to all staff, students and parents.
“A good vision is only relevant if it is reflected in what happens day-to-day.”
Of course not all teaching and learning frameworks are created equal. An internally generated one which is the result of staff discussion and debate may sound like an attractive and cost effective option but it is unlikely to deliver maximum impact.
If you want your teaching and learning framework to make parents choose your school over others, you may opt for something that is globally recognised, where your school can receive accreditation and one which is used by other schools of distinction.
A teaching and learning framework starts with the student. It makes explicit what the school, and all its teachers, believe in terms of what children can achieve. It communicates that to parents and the entire school community in language that everyone can understand.
“Education can, if it is deliberate in what it does, build ‘ability’ in individuals.”
In the past we believed that achievement was a combination of nature and nurture and that a good school maximised the nurture part but could not compensate for nature. Now psychologists think far more of us could achieve highly and neuro-science has proved conclusively that the brain is exquisitely plastic and we are continually creating new neutral pathways. So education can, if it is deliberate in what it does, build “ability” in individuals – we can create “clever children”. We all have unlimited potential.
In theory, everyone can develop into a high performer if the circumstances are optimal, although this doesn’t mean that everyone will. But a school which behaves in a way that instills that self-belief in students provides an optimistic and positive culture that infects students, staff and the community and really does get the best out of every single child.
This is attractive to parents. Who wouldn’t like to send their child to a school where everyone believes they could do well and will do all in their power to ensure it happens? This explicit and clearly communicated belief in students is itself a key and popular differentiator.
Creating future-proofed students
Any school needs to communicate to its parents that what it offers is relevant. Most schools use their vision and mission statement to achieve this. Increasingly they include the preparation of students for a future that will be very different from the present. We all know it will be.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already starting to replace many jobs previously done by humans and this changes what employers and others value. Doing well on the standard tests at school is still important but it is no longer enough.
“Any school needs to communicate to its parents that what it offers is relevant.”
This vision of the world of the future according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) suggests that schools now need to systematically prioritise the development of values and attitudes in their students alongside knowledge and skills, and to give them equal status. This agenda is challenging but also appealing to both parents and staff. It can be used to attract both.
Turning theory into practice
So, a school can convey its intentions but those intentions need to be translated into practice. A good teaching and learning framework is how this is achieved. Specialists can help schools to create that educational future right now by introducing a structure that secures the systematic development of the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes students need.
A teaching and learning framework is required which provides a comprehensive, research-based set of competencies that enhances academic performance in individuals. At the same time it develops the values, attributes and attitudes that research shows are vital in creating cognitive success.
When a school starts to work with such a teaching and learning framework teachers find that by making minor tweaks to their practice and being more deliberate in bringing the key success competencies to the fore they can get better outcomes from students. This is, of course, highly rewarding.
Making the most of your teaching and learning framework
A robust whole school and teaching and learning framework will:
- Ensure that all educational activity is designed to build brains enabling academic and social success in students,
- Send a clear set of messages to teachers, and other staff, indicating that teaching and learning is more than curriculum and exams,
- Provide a vibrant statement to parents about what you will be helping their child to become,
- Ensure your school has a clear point of difference which parents recognise and value.