We all want our children to attend ‘good’ schools, but how does one define what makes a ‘good’ school? In the 21st Century there are so many sources of information available about schools at a press of button and reputations can be built and broken through the internet, through social media and a plethora of school rating sites. Parents are looking at a wide range of school aspects including school timings, Principal reputation, results, links to reputable educational groups, curriculum etc. However it is my belief that parents will always look for the quality of the learning experience and the catering of their specific child’s developmental educational needs. The difficulty for parents is what parameter is best used to define the quality of education to be confident of the learning experience their child will experience. Consequently, the definition of good schools is very subjective and can only be judged from an individual family perspective of quality and the requirements of their child.
As an educator to be concise about what makes a good school is a challenge as we want to include everything. We all know that if you try to mix too many elements together, despite all of them being great separately, it can make for a dreadful combination. I offer the following basic ingredients for establishing a good school, however as with all ingredients, varying levels of these components will alter the flavour and texture of the experience:
- Recognising students have different kinds of intelligences. Howard Gardner’s well-known theory of 8 multiple intelligences is great starting point for this. Some children are better in the arts or music; others are socially more competent, for instance. English, Maths and Science which cover primarily linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences should not be the only key deciding factors of whether a student is successful or not;
- Offering an all-through educational experience from pre -school to primary school to secondary school. This continuity enables schools to establish seamless learning experiences and removes the need for unnecessary additional testing as students move one key stage to the next in different schools;
- Inclusivity enrolling students of all language, race, Nationality and ability. This will create a natural setting for young people of diverse backgrounds to grow up together and not wait till they become grown-ups to learn how to be inclusive and value differences;
- Opportunities for students who are more able in specific domains to help those who are less able or are different due to their special needs. A regard for values based education that nurtures community and service; supporting character development;
- Empoweringstudents to access extra-curricular activities of their choice. This access to opportunities beyond the ‘standard’curriculum enablesstudents to have a more enriching potential of leisure and life choices as adults;
- Strong recruitment and appraisal systems for staff. Schoolsthat are equipped with the proper HR knowledge, skills and tools to attract, develop and retain educators with both good character and competence; and one that has the courage to exit those who lack the character and competence to work in the education sector.
Much of this information can be read about in a variety of school inspection and accreditation reports. These reports have a place and certainly support parents in making informed judgments about schools. However, one must remember that all inspections are a snap shot of a school at a specific time and to truly judge a school first-hand experience and knowledge is required. It is essential for parents and most importantly children to visit the school and spend some time there. Does the school feel comfortable? Does it stimulate? Does the learning ‘look’ natural and inspire you to be a member of that school family?
So if the basic ingredients are present and you are able to answer yes to the above questions then you are probably looking at a good school. Regrettably that was the easy question to answer; the more challenging question is what makes a good school, outstanding or truly exceptional? Like all good ingredient mixes, it is the ‘X factor’, that defines this small percentage of schools. The ‘X factor’ comes from consistency over a period of time of being good and establishing a unique school vision and ethos championed by all stakeholders. Outstanding schools have their priorities and learning experiences shaped and driven by the most important members of the school; the children.