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'The best schools have an "ethos" that includes the head, the teachers, the governors, the kids and the parents'

The school's community is all that really matters: we would do well to ignore the contradictory advice that comes from Ofsted, the local authority, the executive head or any other meddling

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The school's community is all that really matters: we would do well to ignore the contradictory advice that comes from Ofsted, the local authority, the executive head or any other meddling

At the very core of all successful schools – we're told – is the desire to continuously improve.

Unfortunately, this drive for constant improvement can bring with it very major problems, especially when it's forced on schools by their many masters. 

Along comes Ofsted with its recommendations, or the executive head, or multi-academy trust CEO, or the local authority inspector, or the Regional Schools Commissioner. Each with their own opinion pointing the school to yet another direction. Too often the only outcome is utter confusion.

Why have we forgotten that the only way a school can improve in a sustainable way is if all its teachers, leaders, staff, children, parents and governors are work together with a common goal? 

Stop and think

An oft-forgotten word, but what I'm really talking about is the school's "ethos". We seemed to have lost sight of this concept in recent years in the inadvertent rush to become "robot schools" achieving the data and results demanded from on high.

Schools need to stop and think about their core aim. Do they put the children at the very centre of all they do, or have they become peripheral? Are the staff the lifeblood of the school or dogsbodies at the beck and school of senior leaders? Are parents and governors truly involved, or kept at arm's length?

To establish an ethos that works, teamwork lies at the core: the entire community working together and recognising the role they each play and the strengths they bring. There is no place for hierarchy or ego – everyone involved must have their voice heard, everyone must be nurtured.

Heads dictating what they want then retreating back to their room is not part of this model. Heads and senior staff need to recognise that they cause much of their staff's wellbeing and overwork issues. It is possible for a strong coherent team to decide workload issues as a group rather than have it imposed on them.

Ethos benefits

When the whole school family has a common goal and common ethos, you know it the moment you walk through the school gates. Each and every member of staff, every pupil, every parent, presents a confidence in the school, because they know their opinion is valued, and they believe collectively in the school's direction of travel.

Pupils should live the school's ethos. They want to be proud of the school they attend. Any and every opportunity should be used to reinforce this ethos – I was even known to use puppets to push my school's philosophy to its pupils.

Of course, the leadership function is crucial in the process. Headteachers must believe in, and sell, this ethos to their staff, the local community and parents. They mustn't hide from this part of the job: they must love it. 

When a school achieves a strong ethos it is far more important than meaningless data. It means – and this is crucial – that the school and its team really care about the children in their care. 

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories. To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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