'When people ask me what makes a great school my answer is simple - love'

It’s a simple word and produces everything we are all looking for in a school, writes one leading educationist

Colin Harris

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A question I am always asked when visiting schools is: what makes a good school?

A question I am always asked when visiting schools is: what makes a good school?

The simple answer is that you can spot a good school as soon as you walk through the door.

How is this possible, I hear you ask? In my new role I visit lots of different schools and the first thing that hits you is the feeling of the place, its ethos.

This ethos is there for all to see and feel. It pervades all aspects of the establishment and has many tell-tale signs.

The most important is positive teacher-pupil relationships as well as the friendliness of the pupils and their interaction with one another.

The key values can be seen all around and you sense that every individual in that building wants to be there. There is both evidence and a feeling that high expectations are pervasive, from the quality of the building to the quality of work being presented.

You quickly understand that teachers are dedicated to those in their care. Children present as individuals and know that they will be treated as such.

Behaviour is excellent, because the structures are understood by everyone.

There is also evidence that staff are allowed to take risks to enable them to get the best from the pupils.

And strong leadership is present. The head will proudly welcome you, as this is a person not ensnared by paperwork but one who is always available to the people in the building. You will quickly see the relationships and mutual respect that exist.

The vision is communicated not by what is said but by what can be seen. It’s evident that the staff are a team who are motivated by common purpose and by a head who shows honest and caring leadership.

The magic forumla 

So what does all this tell us? It is not earth-shattering to say that schools are about relationships. But I would go one step further and say they are about love.

The best learning is achieved when both the teacher and student have a common purpose. They share the same journey and bond. It is a bond that is filled with a joyful desire to provide challenging and impactful experiences that truly stimulate the individual. And what creates that bond is love.

Every day, teachers countrywide achieve this, creating a school full of respect, wonder and a desire to learn. These are schools where all members are learners one minute and teachers the next. But they all share love. It’s so important to recognise that schools must show the best side of humanity.

There we have it: the best schools have relationships at their core along with high-quality teaching and strong leadership. It is a formula that produces the dedicated teachers we seek, guided by a head who truly cares. What follows is a strong ethos and pupils with high expectations who behave and want to be part of the fabric. What we have is love, of and for a school.

Love is an emotive word. It’s one we do not use nearly enough in the context of schools. And that’s a pity, because this one simple word produces everything we are all looking for.

Colin Harris is a former primary head who is now supporting teachers and headteachers

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