Asking whether something works or not in education is an endless, perilous quest that normally results in argument, resentment and division. It’ll be more useful to ask “under what conditions does it work.*” The more I read about Michaela Community School the more I’m convinced that high expectations and brutal honesty are whats needed in schools to help young people exceed their expectations. It seems (from the outside looking in – I’m yet to visit) that Michaela have created the conditions that enable their core values so that students can flourish.
Following an article published in the Sunday Times, Twitter was alive with debate about Michaela’s approach. I’ve yet to visit the school (hoping to visit in early 2017) so I’m trying to keep an open mind, but have read blogs from many of their staff. Regardless of whether you agree with their approach or not, one thing that has impressed me (from the numerous blog posts/articles/presence on Twitter) is that they appear to be asking the right questions. Their answers may not fit your view of education (there are a few things I’ve read that are currently at odds with my own views) but the questions they are asking will almost certainly be useful in moving your thinking forward. If anything it’s refreshing to follow the development of a school that is challenging the status quo – committing to long term strategic goals rather than settling for short term quick wins.
Here’s a few questions (I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg) that Michaela has prompted me to consider:
- What is the purpose of our school?
- Can this be summed up in one phrase?
- How is this communicated to staff, students & parents?
- When we say ‘high expectations’ what do we actually mean (down to the detail of day to day life in the academy)?
- What do we mean by ‘high expectations’ of:
- School environment?
- What do we mean by ‘high expectations’ of:
- How are new students inducted into the school?
- Is an assembly and some extended tutor time enough to train students in the detail of school rules and expectations?
- Would allocating sufficient time (2-3 days to a week) to effective routines/rules at the beginning of the school year save time later on and reduce consistency amongst students/staff?
- Is the school culture dialled in so that everyone is moving in the same direction?
- Is the culture amongst staff to a level where people feel they are able to give their honest opinion and be part of the development of the school?
Teaching, learning, curriculum & assessment:
- What is learning?
- What are the most effective learning habits for students to develop?
- What do we mean by effective teaching? How do we know?
- What is the best way to structure a curriculum to enable learning?
- How is learning interleaved over time (to increased long term memory retention)?
- How can assessment be used to challenge students and provide useful data that enables teachers to plan effective sequences of lessons?
- What do students need to know? How is this communicated to students?
- How do we convince students that success is achieved through a series of habits (and that anyone can achieve this)?
- What is effective homework?
- How often should it be set?
- Should there be a tight whole school approach or complete teacher autonomy?
- How will homework be monitored?
- What happens if homework is not completed to an acceptable standard?
- Is marking every single book an effective use of time?
- Are teachers happy, appropriately challenged and given enough support to teach well day in day out?
Literacy & numeracy:
- What is the most effective way to catch up students who are already behind with literacy & numeracy upon arrival?
- How is this embedded across all subjects becoming part and partial of every lesson?
- What is the most effective way to accelerate the progress of weaker readers?
- What role does reading play in school, every day?
- How do we support students to truly love reading and see it as a worthwhile use of their time?
- What are our expectations of every student every day?
- What systems are in place to deal with disruptive behaviour?
- How do we ensure consistency across all staff?
- How do we get the ‘right people on the bus’?
- Is the school vision / value so clear that potential candidates knowingly opt in?
Approaching Michaela through the lens of ‘right or wrong’ is a waste of time. Use their model to challenge your thinking, your values / beliefs and most importantly what purposeful education is so that we can all continue to do whats best for the students. For doing precisely that I’d like to thank Michaela and its staff for making me think.
*stolen from Dylan Wiliam but couldn’t find the exact quote.