E-plan: the road to revival
Quick-FIX or crash diets can do more harm than good, but a carefully selected, sustained, and balanced intake of nourishment can re-energise, reinvigorate and even remodel you.
We know that to make any real difference to your lifestyle and eating habits you have to want to do it yourself and be convinced that the change is good for you. School improvement is no different.
It cannot be solely a top-down initiative - all the research about change demonstrates that the people carrying out the change are vital to the process. Without their support, change gets subverted and diverted. The people factor is fundamental to theE -plan. Forget the F-plan. It's the E-plan for healthy schools and schooling that could make a difference to your life.
We have endured a long period of telling teachers what to do. They have been told what to teach, and in some cases how and when to do it. This may help to focus attention on matters that need to be attended to. It may in the short term raise standards. However the long-term consequences of "technicising" the profession could be alarming. People who are used to constantly following orders are likely to lose their creativity and sparkle. The best graduates will not be attracted to reactive, repetitive and mechanical jobs. Empowering and trusting the profession so that they can be proactive contributors to school improvement is an urgent priority. In the same vein, empowering pupils to take responsibility for their own learning is a gift that will be with them for life.
Entitlement and equity
All pupils are entitled to the best possible education we can provide. This has implications for the content of the curriculum, pedagogy and resources. We have become increasingly skilled at tracking the progress of individuals and groups of students but are not yet skilled enough at knowing exactly what to do when we find a particular group (for example, white working-class boys) is underachieving. Identifying examples of good practice and trying to learn from them could help ensure that support is given where needed.
School improvement is not just about resources, but resources can help. Spending Pounds 2,250 per state-educated pupil compared with between Pounds 3,600 and Pounds 8,700 on each pupil in the private sector (1995 figures) is just not on for any society that pretends to support entitlement and equity.
Expectations and esteem
Research has established that children and adults tend to live up to or down to the expectations others have of them. But this is frequently ignored. We are very good at talking ourselves and others down and the recent "shame and blame" culture has fostered this attitude. Self-esteem can be derived from the expectations others have of you and high self-esteem is intrinsic to learning. It is self-esteem that gives you the necessary confidence to make the leap from existing knowledge to the new and unknown. The "3Ss" - selection, setting and streaming - are back in vogue but little attention is being paid to the consequences of self-fulfilling prophecies and the impact on the self-esteem of those not selected to top groupssetsschools.
Children and adults need to be encouraged to reach these high expectations. Surprisingly, shaming and blaming rarely has this effect. Supportive but challenging feedback is essential to progress. We are all more likely to listen to and learn from advice given in a helpful and encouraging, rather than hectoring manner.
Enquiry and enthusiasm
Good teachers are learners too. As well as keeping up-to-date with subject knowledge they see their job as a journey of enquiry. What works and why? Why did this method work with that class but not with another? They share a joy for enquiry and learning with their pupils. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and is often what pupils remember about their teachers.
The policies of the previous government encouraged competition rather than collaboration between schools. School improvement cannot take place in isolation and recent moves to encourage schools to share good practice with each other are to be welcomed. There are no blueprints but we can learn from exchanging experience of what worked and what didn't, especially when time is found to reflect on why this happened.
Evaluation with evidence
Improvement has to be based on sound evaluation -that is, critical and systematic reflection on practice. External inspection can be helpful but, fundamental to improvement, is ongoing rigorous self-evaluation involving staff, pupils, governors and parents. Developing the necessary skills to do this can be a learning activity for all involved and can benefit most aspects of school life.
It seems that the only constant is change. As Michael Fullan put it, change is a process not an event. We cannot yet really conceive the world that our current primary school pupils will be facing when they reach middle age but somehow we have to equip them with the skills they will need to handle whatever they come up against. To do this schools will have to be both responsive and proactive. Evolving schools will be those that can adapt and adopt to new situations as they arise. These schools will be open to new ideas and ways of doing things and will always be examining existing practices.
Most teachers go into teaching because they want to and believe they can make a difference. But teaching is hard work, particularly after doing it for several years. Sustaining initial energy and enthusiasm can be difficult in the best of times - but even more difficult when the job is constantly changing, demands are consistently increasing and the profession is continually harangued for everything that goes wrong. There are efforts now to talk up the job and value the contribution of teachers. Other initiatives could also help re-energise and re-engage the profession. More work does not always mean less energy as many of the teachers involved in out-of-school hours activities can demonstrate. Being in control and participating in worthwhile initiatives can be energy-enhancing. Other energy inducing aspects of the diet include opportunities for secondments, sabbaticals and exchanges.
Excitement and enjoyment
Last but definitely not least, excitement and enjoyment are intrinsic to the diet of school improvement. Observing children develop over a period of time and guiding them through their learning experiences (joys and frustrations) has to be one of the most exciting jobs around. In spite of what actors say (or perhaps because of it) working with children can be one of the most enjoyable careers.
Health warning. This diet should not be adopted without careful consideration. It is lifelong and could affect your well-being.
Kate Myers is professor of professional development at Keele University