The ten things you need to do to ensure all pupils do well at school
This issue has been extensively researched in the UK and the answer is known. Most head teachers know the answer from their own experience and reading but some find it harder than others to implement what they know.
The answer is:
1 Good discipline
Without good discipline little else can be achieved. Fortunately most children and parents want good discipline. Good discipline needs firm leadership from the head. In schools where discipline is poor the head has to:
*lay down clear rules which relate to behaviour in the classroom, behaviour in the corridors and public areas, behaviour on the way to and from school.
*assume that pupils will misbehave so all staff need to know the rules and sanctions and apply them fairly and 100% of the time. Many staff may be needed to patrol common areas during break and lunchtime.
*temporarily exclude pupils whose behaviour is disrupting others.
*see parents of all troublesome children.
*have agreed routines for many things such as movement between classes, queueing for lunch, going into the classroom, standing before the lesson starts, what to get out of your bag before the lesson starts, how to end a lesson, how to present work, how to hand in work, how a teacher will mark work, what to do if an adult comes into the room, how to address staff, how to wear uniform etc.
*have agreed sanctions.
*have staff specifically responsible for the most troublesome pupils.
*provide support for staff who find discipline is a problem.
2 High expectations of every child.
Every child must be expected to behave well and work hard. Every child must be expected to pass every GCSE and A-level. So there has to be regular questioning in class, marked homework and testing to ensure the teacher knows whether pupils are keeping up with these high expectations. The school invests in tracking individuals and groups.
Expectations should not be limited by target grades. Schools must be ambitious.
If a pupil is NOT keeping up with expectations then there will always be a response. The response will depend on the circumstances but will include:
*restests in the case of bad test marks.
*homework repeated after school on any day where homework is late or of poor quality.
*pastoral assistance to pupils who are being held back by emotional or family problems – which will never be an excuse for poor behaviour or poor work.
But there will also be plenty of rewards and praise for good work or for improvement.
The curriculum should be stretching, especially for the more able. That means studying hard texts in English literature, learning to read music in music lessons, doing life drawing to a good standard in art, making demanding pieces in product design.
There must be systems which ensure teachers set marked work following a homework timetable.
Teachers who cannot manage this should be helped and, if they cannot improve, moved on.
3 Good English
Many big-city pupils do not speak English at home and/or they have parents with a limited vocabulary. But good English is the sine qua non of success in most school subjects and
most urban jobs. So all pupils coming to secondary school without Level 4 English must have extra lessons, abandoning other subjects where necessary.
4 Good teachers
Good schools spend time thinking of ingenious ways of attracting and retaining good staff.
Good teachers tend to have good subject knowledge, they are enthusiastic about their job and their subject, they plan lessons well, they check learning in lessons, they test pupils and mark work regularly. They set high expectations, command genuine respect and have the authority to create a scholarly space that allows pupils to achieve.
5 Regular testing
Pupils have to learn how to commit work to memory. They must all have good notes and revision guides. They must be tested on the term’s work every three weeks or so, generally across a year group for any one subject. The results should be send to parents and put up in a public place. Pupils who do badly should be set the target of improving their ranked position and given help so that they do.
6 Emotional commitment
Pupils must believe that the school is a good school and they are proud to be in it. They must like their teachers while knowing that they are strong on discipline. They must want to work well to please the teacher. They must be taught that good exam results are perfectly possible and lead to a better job and better life. They must see the point of it all.
7 Cultural capital
Children from disadvantaged homes may not see much of the world. So they must be forced to visit museums, art galleries, classical music concerts, plays, lectures….and write about these experiences. They must be forced to read.
8 Parental involvement
There needs to be very good involvement with parents – regular reports on their children, visits to parents who appear to be invisible, newsletters, invitations to events, routine parents’ meetings. Parents should be explicitly told which rules they should insist on in the home and how to help their children do homework.
9 Extra-curricular activity
Sport, debating, music, drama, Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme – things which help develop lifelong interests and friendships and which provide something good about school for those who find academic work entirely burdensome. The key is to find ways of compelling all pupils to be involved in something every term. Tutors have a role to play.
Most good secondary schools now benefit from being part of MATs or loose federations of local schools where they draw on each other’s strengths. Strong departments help weak ones. There is a sense of responsibility for the whole area – no school stands alone.
And of course there is a number 11 – good heads. They are the people who make sure that numbers 1-10 happen.