In a school governors’ meeting recently, I was speaking my regular motherhood and apple pie piece about the need for excellent education, and about nothing being too good for the kids in our care, and quite rightly one of the other governors asked me the $64,000 question. that I had repeatedly sidestepped in previous meetings.
“Sandy, can you tell us exactly what excellent education is? And how will we know it when we see it?”
That put me on the spot. I am aware very many people have tried to define excellent education, and that there is great variation in the priorities different people have in seeking to ensure it happens, which makes describing it rather daunting. However here I have decided to lay out what I think the process looks like when it is happening, and what prospective parents and teachers might want to look for if they visit a school. Feel free to comment if you want to debate it; I am open to persuasion and argument.
- Teaching is well organized and teachers have well-established, consistent routines easily understood by other teachers, children and parents.
- Teacher absence rates are low, and there is little use of supply teachers.
- Teaching is personalized and properly differentiated. Teachers are aware of what their pupils know, and don’t know.
- All children are routinely encouraged to answer questions and participate in lessons.
- Children in the top ability groups are given enrichment tasks and further study opportunities when they have finished their work, rather than being used to coach other children.
- Children in the bottom ability groups have plenty of contact with the most experienced teachers in the school, and are not confined to separate tables and effectively taught by Teaching Assistants.
- Teachers review children’s progress frequently, and communicate this to children, teachers and parents.
- Teachers understand the context of their children’s lives outside school.
- People associated with the school like each other and are happy working together.
- Teachers and children feel they can express their own personalities at school.
- Children have no gaps in their knowledge. If a child misses something at school because of illness or other absence, the teacher advises the parents and helps the child fill the gap.
- Children have access to good books and educational resources, and willingly take advantage of what is on offer.
- Children and teachers spend a lot of time discussing teaching, learning and knowledge, to mutual advantage.
- Learning involves a mix of methods, appropriate to particular tasks. These can include direct instruction, small group discussion and collaboration, self-study, and plenary sessions.
- Lessons are summarized at the end, usually through group discussion.
- Learning is linked with the local area and the outside world.
- Equal status is given to mathematics, the sciences, the arts and the humanities and children are taught by teachers properly trained in these subject areas.
- Children have the possibility to extend their personal knowledge and interests through independent or guided study.
- Children and parents enjoy coming into the school, speaking to teachers, and supporting school events.
- Discipline is quiet and consistent.
- Former pupils are happy to return to the school and support it.