Book of the week: Success Against the Odds: five years on. Revisiting effective schools in disadvantaged areas

29th June 2001 at 01:00

Peter Mortimore's original research for the commission reckoned 10 factors played a significant part in school success: leadership; good atmosphere or spirit; high expectations; focus on teaching and learning; regular monitoring of pupil progress; giving children responsibility for their own learning; opportunities to participate in school life; incentives to succeed; parental involvement; and extra-curricular activities that build better relationships.

The idea behind the first Success Against the Odds (Routledge 1996) was to bring to life those dry, empirical constructs through compelling portraits of 11 schools deemed effective in spite of being in areas of social disadvantage. The new report looks again at those schools: four primary, six secondary and one special.

Five years is hardly long in the life of a school; barely time for one year's intake to make its way through. Though it proved long enough for at least one "successful" school to "lose momentum", as Agnes McMahon describes the travails of Fair Furlong primary school in Bristol since 1995. Fair Furlongnbsp;went from a school poised to make great progress to one in which standards of achievement and behaviour fell following a change of headteacher, differences over policy and a breakdown of communication between staff. Fortunately, five years was also long enough to get the school into recovery, although the experience leads McMahon to one of the book's important conclusions. Successful heads can be hard acts to follow: "Transition from one head to another is in itself a major innovation and it needs to be carefully planned, managed and supported.

Margaret Maden, editor of both reports, questions whether that sort of knowledge about schools and the context in which they work is as clear as some believe. "Are the measurements of school and pupil achievement adequately illuminating? Are the indicators of disadvantage sufficiently robust? How much do we really know about sustaining improvement as opposed to a series of quick fixes?"

The answer to that, after Five Years On, is probably a bit more than we did.

Edited by Margaret Maden
RoutledgeFalmer pound;18.99
TES Direct pound;18.49

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