Cuddly schools do worse, says report

5th March 2004 at 00:00
Schools with a collegiate culture, where teachers are reluctant to criticise each other and a warm atmosphere is encouraged, are less likely to be academically successful, according to a report by education consultants.

The best schools, says the Hay Group, reduce professional autonomy, hold teachers accountable to the whole school and are identified by staff's willingness to make personal sacrifices to put pupils first. Successful schools are unwilling to accept low performance among staff, even if they work hard.

The Government welcomed the report, which offers a "five-step model" to help schools change their culture. But teachers' leaders accused Hay of creating a false divide between a collegiate approach and high standards.

Researchers asked more than 4,000 teachers in 134 state schools to arrange 30 statements of values and beliefs in order of priority, to reflect their schools as they are now and how they would like them to be.

When the findings were compared with schools' raw and value-added attainment, the researchers found that high-performing schools shared common values and beliefs.

The report said: "Within high-performing schools there is much less complicity in under-performance and a greater willingness to criticise the performance of fellow teachers when the child's educational needs are perceived to be in jeopardy.

"Less successful schools tend to nurture a more collegiate environment, whereby the comfort of staff is paramount and a 'closed ranks' policy operates whenever times get tough."

Schools which are low-achieving need to break down complacency among staff and make them critical of the way they operate. They need to build a consensus of aspirations among staff which tackles weaknesses and builds on strengths.

Russell Hobby, author of the report and head of Hay Group's UK education practice, said: "A school's culture shapes how teachers choose to work with each other and the way they treat pupils.

"All other initiatives, whether focusing on teaching strategies, leaders'

development or teamwork are doomed to deliver a fraction of their potential without the right sort of culture in place."

John Bangs, National Union of Teachers head of education, said: "I really am surprised that Hay has fallen into the trap of creating a false divide between a collegiate environment and school improvement. It is quite possible for schools to have a warm, humorous atmosphere and a real commitment to raising performance."

Almost two-thirds of the schools included in the report were secondaries, a quarter were special schools and 13 per cent were middle or primary schools.

A culture for learning by Russell Hobby, Hay Group, is available at www.transforminglearning.co.uk

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