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Learn from the masters

High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools

By Alistair Smith

Crown House Publishing RRP pound;18.99

3 OUT OF 5

The latest book from Alistair Smith, the man who has been described as "the UK's leading trainer in modern learning methods", is meant to be a practical "how to" guide, but with an emphasis on giving advice to all levels of teaching staff, from classroom practitioners to senior leaders.

Its aim is to teach you how to succeed both individually and as a team. Smith has based his model of a successful, high-performing establishment on the 20 top schools he visited to produce this improvement guide.

Most readers will appreciate his articulate and intelligent approach to self-improvement. Many people who work in schools already know Smith as an inspirational speaker with none of the usual "magic formulas" but, instead, an insight into what leaders and teachers in outstanding schools actually do.

A simple comparison of leadership with a famous team of long-standing and successful "high wires" sets the tone for his clear and practical thought process that carries throughout the book, with his usual wit and wisdom.

At the same time, his tone causes this reader pause for thought. As much as the book is informative and concise, with practical, thorough examples of what successful schools do, does it actually tell you how they do it?

Anyone could tell you why David Beckham, say, is an excellent footballer. They could tell you what his skills are and what he achieves when he delivers them.

But to emulate his skills, you need to know how he does it; you need to be told how he learnt his skills and what steps he took to be such a talented footballer.

This might be the book's gap, although overall it is a thoroughly researched, articulate - and amusing in places - "recommended read" for teachers, middle management, leaders and aspiring high wires.

Is this a patronising or thought-provoking approach to analysing the success of outstanding leaders and schools? On balance, I think the latter. But the style may not suit all readers.

The 10 x 10 project that Smith conceived and constructed, which he outlines at the end of the book, details what these top successful schools do and say and why these are positive attributes for a successful school. That is what makes the book, as a whole, a worthwhile read for anyone in leadership wanting to stay in touch with the educational Zeitgeist.

Smith has a proven track record of success, established relentlessly over the years, and this book, despite minor reservations, is not another one for the office shelf of unread self-help guides.

The reason many schools, and teaching staff, do not perform at their optimum level is because they don't even adhere to the basics. This clear, clever, yet unintimidating, guide should inspire greatness in the places it is most needed.

Trevor Averre-Beeson, director of education, Lilac Sky


Alistair Smith is an inter-nationally known consultant, author and trainer. He has spoken to tens of thousands of teachers across the world and has written a number of books including The Brain's Behind It: New knowledge about the brain and learning.

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