To launch a new series on raising pupil achievement, Bob Doe looks at the latest advice on what makes some schools more effective and Kate Myers visits a Liverpool secondary, one of 52 schools officially recognised as "improving"
The quality of teaching and high all-round expectations have the most impact on pupil progress, according to a new review of school effectiveness research carried out for the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). Effective schools are those where the overall management supports classroom practitioners and pupil learning, according to the review by the University of London Institute of Education.
Eleven key factors are thought to be important in making some schools more effective than others. Some of these were to do with whole-school processes, such as leadership and staff involvement in decision-making. But ultimately it was management in the classroom and the levels of expectation that have the most direct impact, say Dr Pam Sammons, Josh Hillman and Professor Peter Mortimore from the institute's international school effectiveness and improvement centre.
Their 11 effectiveness factors are:
1: Professional leadership that is firm and purposeful, vigorous in selecting effective teachers and creating consensus and unity of purpose: effective heads share responsibilities with other senior managers and involve all teachers in decision-making but they are more than good administrators; they need to be leading professionals, understanding what goes on in the classroom and understanding how teaching and monitoring can be improved.
2: Shared vision and goals: necessary if staff are to lift aspirations and create consistency of practice though school-wide policies and agreements.
3:A learning environment that is attractive and orderly and which encourages self-control among pupils: a prerequisite for a positive classroom ethos.
4: Concentration on teaching and learning: putting the school's primary purpose first. Four measures (time spent on learning, amount of homework, effective learning time and learning time for different subjects) are important practical manifestations of this focus which enable it to be pinned down, say the researchers.
5: Purposeful teaching that is well organised, clear about its objectives, well-prepared in advance and appropriately paced and structured: research points to the importance of effective questioning to focus pupil attention.
6: High expectations and self-esteem among teachers, pupils and parents one of the most important characteristics of effective schools, particularly when linked to a general culture placing demands on everyone in the school. "A common cause of under-achievement in pupils is a failure to challenge them. "
7: Positive reinforcement, clear feedback, rewards and clear disciplinary rules are more likely to be associated with better pupil outcomes than punishment or criticism.
8: Monitoring progress shows how far the school is achieving its goals, focuses the attention of staff, pupils and parents on those goals, informs planning and teaching, and gives clear messages to pupils that teachers are interested in their progress.
9: Pupil rights and responsibilities and enabling pupils to play an active role in the life of the school are important for raising self-esteem and encouraging responsibility for their own learning.
10: Home-school partnerships that foster parent support for their child's learning have positive effects on pupil achievement: successful schools not only involved but made demands on parents.
11: Learning organisations, where teachers and senior managers,as well as pupils, continue to be learners, to improve their practice and keep up with change.
The researchers conclude that "ultimately the quality of teaching (factors four and five ) and expectations (factor six) have the most significant role to play in fostering pupils' learning and progress."
But school processes "remain highly influential because they provide the overall framework within which teachers and classrooms operate. They are important for the development of consistent goals and ensuring pupils' educational experiences are linked as they progress through school."
Key Characteristics of Effective Schools: a review of school effectiveness research by Pam Sammons, Josh Hillman and Peter Mortimore.