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Journeys to becoming great schools


Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant course: One day SSAT event in the summer term around school improvement


If asked where your school is on the journey to becoming a great school, how would you respond? SSAT director of school improvement Angelina Idun summarises the answers she has seen in schools

So, you might want to take up the next few minutes of reading time debating the choice of the adjective ‘great’. You may want to play with semantics and use the comparative ‘greater’ or the superlative ‘greatest’ or even turn to the thesaurus for a completely different adjective.

Undoubtedly there are those of us who will have a set of sub-questions to offer. The point though is that what all of our schools, and what each of us in our roles within those schools, have in common is that we are all somewhere on a continuum to improvement. Is it not the case that we find ourselves constantly striving to better our provision for our children so that they have the best possible learning experience, achieve and thrive and go on to lead successful lives?

At SSAT we recognise that school improvement in the current educational climate is complex, continual and challenging. Some have described it as ‘messy’. We know from our experience working closely and successfully with many school leaders and practitioners from over 2,000 member schools regionally, nationally and internationally, that a ‘one size fits all’ model, framework or taxonomy is not the answer. While the context of a school community is never an excuse, we know that it really does matter.

Differing school improvement journeys

It was such a privilege in the autumn term to spend time in SSAT member schools and witness our differing school improvement journeys in action. Destinations included Brighton, Plymouth, Hastings, Manchester, Dudley, Bradford, Dover, Hythe and London. I am grateful to principals, headteachers, their staff and students for making time to talk so passionately and frankly and to demonstrate the distance travelled and the terrain yet to be covered. A number of the schools I visited serve some of the most socially disadvantaged communities. Others for a variety of reasons have had turbulent recent histories. Yet I came away from each of these schools, which were at quite different points on the road to greatness, with something that could inspire, sustain or revive those of us who are also on a journey.

Here’s a tiny snapshot of some of the aspects of powerful leadership in these schools that are particularly striking and that will resonate with all Sunday Supplement readers:

  • The scale of the challenge does not deter suitable applicants from roles even in the most difficult circumstances – indeed, it often one of the attractions.
  • The focus is always on doing what’s right to maximise the progress, achievement and development of all children – never simply to tick boxes or satisfy external scrutiny.
  • Fostering and maintaining a positive school culture underpinned by strong values and a bold and ambitious vision is central to the mission.
  • However hard it is, there is clarity that the reputation of the school is worth fighting for and opportunities to nurture relationships that will support that reputation must be seized.
  • Toughness on underperformance and robustness when holding to account has a humane face.
  • Despite financial and other constraints, ensuring the conditions are right for staff to develop as leaders and get on with the business of teaching and learning is key.
  • Engaging and partnering creatively with parents and the wider community enriches learning and enables children to access opportunities inside and outside the classroom.

We are not, however, looking at school improvement journeys through rose-coloured spectacles. At SSAT we are not underestimating how arduous navigating the way to being a great school is. The pressures and obstacles (too many to list here) can get in the way, slow us down or momentarily stop us in our tracks.

No matter where

As we enter a new year we want you to consider SSAT as the first port of call for all aspects of sustainable school improvement, no matter what your school context and no matter where your school is on its journey.

SSAT has a 30-year history of leading educational thinking, influencing policy and practice, providing guidance to schools and developing practitioners at all levels. It has always actively encouraged schools to learn from one another, and to measure and celebrate achievements. This means that we are well positioned to further inspire a school-led system of sustainable improvement while facilitating and strongly promoting the collaboration and school–to-school support needed to raise standards and build capacity across the system. SSAT can draw on and connect you with evidence of what has made a significantly positive difference in a wide range of schools, including those with a similar profile to your own with a view to continuing to have a beneficial impact on children’s lives.

We at SSAT are committed to be your travel companions in the year ahead. While we cannot predict what lies ahead on the landscape, to better equip and support schools, students and teachers we are planning to:

  1. Launch ‘Sis’: School Improvement Stories from member schools – realistic, practical insights into what it takes to successfully continue to make the improvements we want to see.
  2. Explore with you a set of key questions about school improvement.
  3. Hold a day event in the summer in the last week of June 2018 which is wrapped around our key questions, focused on school improvement and the journey to becoming a great school.
  4. Draw on the expertise of our SSAT educationalists and relationship managers to pinpoint the school support that best suits the needs of classroom practitioners, leaders and other staff in your school.
  5. Work with you to make a difference to the young people you serve through: the Aspirations Show in the first week of July; a Student Development Challenge; and Widening Participation activities.

We will keep in touch with more news on each of these in the coming weeks.

Find out more and express your interest in the one day SSAT event in the summer term around school improvement.

Read more about school improvement on the SSAT blog: 365 ways to improve your school by Ani Magill


Follow Angelina Idun on Twitter

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