It occurs to me whilst I am trawling through inspection frameworks (That’s Estyn on this side of the border) and evolving documents such as the School Effectiveness Profile that our institutional approach is going to take a long time to budge.
To many this is a statement of the blindingly obvious, but it does contrast fairly sharply with what has happened in modern business practice. If I want to buy a new car, I don’t ask “Well, who has the best car factory?” – I’m not sure there is even a best car factory league table. I ask “Who has the best car for my purposes?”. The point I am making is that my measure is the car, not the factory. And if one company has consistently good reports for cars, that must surely say something about the production facilities and the company itself.
Now that arrangement seems quite sensible – the dog wags the tail and everyone understands.
So why do we do the opposite for schools? We devise a plethora of criteria for measuring the institution (about 80 on the document I am looking at), that look at a multitude of dimensions, such as leadership, quality of teaching and learning, community engagement etc. To measure these, we understandably spend significant sums on training Inspectors to achieve rigour and consistency, and publish the results for all to see. And yes, the attainment of pupils is a significant factor. So what’s the problem?
Increasingly, I feel this is now a second best option. Education for me is about the individual child and his or her experience of learning and growing. With so much focus on the institution, it is so easy to lose sight of this, even with the best of intentions. Our success as schools or colleges should surely be reflections of the success of our young people. And yet beyond academic attainment, we measure very little about the progress they make. This is because measuring GCSEs, A levels and NVQs is relatively easy. Measuring the soft issues like self-esteem, communication skills, creativity and ingenuity is hard.
And yet it has never been so crucial to be able to do this. It is increasingly these soft skills that distinguish job applicants and empower individuals to achieve in a connected world.
So we need to put as much effort into changing the educational experience at the individual level as we do at the institutional level and measuring all the ways that children progress – including the tough ‘soft’ stuff. Then we will be able to truly measure our schools in terms of the progress of our pupils.
And remember that it takes many people lots of time, effort and money to make positive changes to an institution. But just one teacher, even one intervention can make the world of difference to one pupil. So let’s not forget that we can transform our schools one pupil at a time as well.