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What does it mean to be one of the best schools in the world?

Kike Agunbiade, Senior Education Lead SSAT, writes…

As a new senior education lead joining SSAT this September, one of my first roles has been to lead our work on world-class schools. SSAT is dedicated to supporting schools in their journey to beyond outstanding – but by providing a formative framework rather than solely through an accountability lens.

We need a formative framework, not an accountability lens

The more deeply I get involved, the more I think about the notion of what it might mean to be one of the ‘best schools in the world’.

In many ways, it is a redundant question; we want all schools to do a brilliant job in educating all students, wherever they are.

However, we are far from that place, so the journey of continuous school improvement does require teachers and school leaders to think about how they can keep learning from best practice around the world in striving to do more for their students.

Defining what being world leading is, finding examples, and then celebrating that is tricky.

earth 300Just the phrase ‘best in the world’ begs many questions:

  • How varied is the purpose of education in different countries?
  • How can we compare schools with diverse and sometimes contradictory success criteria?
  • Context is so important – is it fair to compare schools with very dissimilar student populations and unequal access to resources?

What about a market-based approach: we look at applicants per place; or at where those who can afford to pay for education choose to send their pupils in the state system, as illustrated in Tatler?

We know that we can compare our students at a country level through instruments such as PISA rankings. Or, looking at the system as a whole, we can see evidence that education in England has been rapidly improving (but other evidence, such as PISA itself, suggests otherwise).

Who is best? Depends who you ask

At a school level it becomes much more difficult. In 2014 Pisa introduced a school-based testing instrument, available through NFER. However, currently the only other countries involved are Spain and the US; any comparisons made would not really allow a school to say they were the best in the world from such a narrow data basis.

Another perspective

Surely, being the best must include contributing to the wider system, for example through educational research, sharing best practice and supporting the community the schools serves.

The vast body of research on effective schools and school improvement has much to contribute; however the very volume of research available is overwhelming for many teachers and leaders.

The framework we have developed, sets out what the main facets of being a world-class school might be. Discussing this framework and how schools will use it has been inspiring, thought provoking and challenging. Indeed colleagues and I have some passionate debates with colleagues about it.

An approach to revolutionise school improvement

A pilot group of schools is working with us to develop guidance tools to support the framework, and an accreditation mechanism to recognise schools that truly are transformational.

Feedback from this group so far is that they see this as an approach that could revolutionise school improvement and bring meaning to the idea of being ‘beyond outstanding’.

We will be launching the framework for all SSAT member schools at the SSAT National Conference 2015: Quality and Equity on Thursday 3-Friday 4 December, so watch this space.

In the meantime – let us know what you think should be the definition of a world-class school, by tweeting us at @ssat and using the hashtag #worldclassschools


Follow SSAT on Twitter: @SSAT

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Follow Kike on Twitter: @kagunbiade


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