7 lessons from 7 sustainably successful schools

By Daria Kuznetsova, Teach First

How do schools achieve excellence and how do they maintain it? This article explores lessons in sustainable success from seven schools in disadvantaged areas.

Teach First embarked on a research project consisting of seven in-depth case studies of Teach First-partnered secondary schools considered ‘sustainably successful’. ‘Sustainable success’ was defined as achieving excellent results for pupils while maintaining good working conditions for teachers. The work specifically focused on what the schools were already doing and how they went about doing it.

Here’s what they found:

  1. The schools planned change. It was put into practice over the long-term

They had clear visions and often fully articulated plans on how to achieve these over the next 3-5 years. The schools were also steady in their approach to applying change. Both changes to existing practice, (like reviewing the curriculum) and the introduction of new approaches to professional development, would be discussed, planned (making clear everyone’s roles and responsibilities), introduced and evaluated at the end. The ability to introduce change over the long term was partly due to their reputation for success. All were rated Good or Outstanding and so none had had a full Ofsted inspection (section 5) in the last five years.

  1. This often made them look outward to their networks for inspiration and help on improving

Senior leaders were often involved in several national and regional initiatives. They would both visit and host other schools to learn more about particular practices on a regular basis. This supported recruitment and retention: staff knew of the school’s strong local reputation, which encouraged them to stay, as well as to join the school in the first place.

  1.  There was a focus on staff wellbeing and opportunities for flexible working

Staff wellbeing at these schools was considered as part of the bigger picture of the school’s success, and not a separate issue. Many schools offered opportunities for part-time work, to new and current staff (often introduced after maternity leave). Some schools looked into ‘flexible working’. This was usually in relation to agreed ways of communicating between staff, leaving the school site, and working hours. Part time and flexible working came with some hurdles, but schools were working to tackle these, often through well thought out timetables.

  1.  But workload is still high, especially for leadership

Across the board, those at the top reported working long hours. Many staff seemed to feel happy working hard, because of their passion for the job. But this was sometimes considered unsustainable over the long term.

  1.  Behaviour was owned by senior leadership

Leaders across schools acted as role models and supported staff in making sure behaviour was good. These leaders were visible and approachable to students. They also made an effort in pointing out ‘little things’ like punctuality or uniform.

  1.  Consistency, consistency, consistency

A common theme across the schools we spoke to was the importance they put on being consistent in the initial planning phases, and then in putting those plans into practice. For teaching and learning, senior and middle leaders set clear guidelines on lesson structure and teaching techniques. All teachers were trained in them to make sure it was consistent across the school. The same was the case for behaviour: This saved time and led to better standards overall.

  1.  A sense among staff that you are ‘always learning’

Across the schools we visited, staff from all levels of seniority reported having many opportunities to develop professionally and said that they found it useful. In schools where professional development was a top priority, there was a sense of responsibility to improve.

We hope these findings can offer useful ideas for school leaders to consider, along with supporting evidence of what works in their area.

This article originally appeared on the Teach First blog here.

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