CfBT Education Trust has recently published a series of reviews of best practice for school improvement
Its a significant contribution to school improvement research
These latest Reviews, from CFBT Education Trust, cover topics such as assessment for learning, inclusion of SEN students, effective teaching, school self-evaluation and successful school leadership.
Working with partners including the Oxford University Department of Education, the Centre for Equity in Education at the University of Manchester, the University of Glasgow, the University of Nottingham and the Hong Kong Institute of Education, CfBT Education Trust commissioned a series of reviews of international literature.
The idea that schools can impact positively on student outcomes is a crucial driver in the rise of interest in school improvement research and practice. These reviews highlight international examples of best practice in order to effect change and identify how effective school improvement manifests itself. They form useful tools for schools and school leaders, but also act as lessons for policy makers in terms of what works around the world. Evidence led policy and practice is now high on the political agenda.
Assessment for learning
Assessment for learning – where the first priority is to promote learning – is a key means of initiating improvement. The features, strategies and principles underpinning assessment for learning form the basis of this review.
Assessment that is for learning, as opposed to merely of learning, looks forward as well as back. Teachers who assess in this way are concerned not just to confirm and verify what their students have learnt, but also to help their students and themselves understand what the next steps in learning should be and how they might be attempted. This kind of assessment has a ‘formative’ purpose: it helps to shape what lies ahead rather than simply to gauge and record past achievements.
The main strategies considered important for Assessment for Learning (AfL) – sharing learning goals, formative feedback, peer and self-assessment, and the formative use of summative tests – have been found to be overwhelmingly positive in terms of their potential to promote improvements in teachers’ classroom practice.
This review proposes that in order to encourage AfL, subject departments:
have an atmosphere in which teachers are expected to watch others in action – to actively support peer observation
recognise and value current skills and help teachers to identify their current formative practice.
have meetings where teachers discuss learning
give teachers time to plan well by encouraging them to mark less, but mark better.
From exclusion to inclusion
With a specific focus on children with special educational needs (SEN), this review addresses the forms of classroom practice that can help all children to participate. The review particularly focuses on elements of inclusive education and the implications for schools and school leaders.
This paper reviews the international literature on the development of effective ways of including children and young people with special educational needs in schools. It addresses three overall questions:
What forms of classroom practice can help all children to participate and learn?
How can such practices be developed?
What does this mean for school organisation and leadership?
The analysis of the literature suggests six key ideas:
Schools need to understand clearly what is meant by inclusive education.
Inclusive classroom practices involve overcoming barriers to student participation and learning.
Engaging with various kinds of evidence can encourage teachers to develop more inclusive practices.
Additional support for individual students should be carefully planned; those involved require appropriate training.
Inclusive schools can take many forms, but they all have an organisational culture that views student diversity positively.
Leaders have a central role in working with their colleagues to foster an inclusive culture within their schools.
The literature suggests that supporting students with special educational needs, and other groups of vulnerable learners, depends less on the introduction of particular techniques or organisational arrangements, and much more on processes of social learning within particular contexts. The use of evidence as a means of stimulating experimentation and collaboration within a school is a central strategy.
Teachers are one of the key elements in any school and effective teaching is one of the key propellers for school improvement. This review is concerned with how to define a teacher’s effectiveness and what makes an effective teacher. It draws out implications for policymakers in education and for improving classroom practice. Teacher effectiveness is generally referred to in terms of a focus on student outcomes and the teacher behaviours and classroom processes that promote better student outcomes.
This review, based upon research evidence, suggests that effective teachers:
are clear about instructional goals
are knowledgeable about curriculum content and the strategies for teaching it
communicate to their students what is expected of them, and why
make expert use of existing instructional materials in order to devote more time to practices that enrich and clarify the content
are knowledgeable about their students, adapting instruction to their needs and anticipating misconceptions in their existing knowledge
teach students meta-cognitive strategies and give them opportunities to master them
address higher- as well as lower-level cognitive objectives
monitor students’ understanding by offering regular appropriate feedback
integrate their instruction with that in other subject areas
accept responsibility for student outcomes.
The review shows that in order to achieve good teaching, good subject knowledge is a prerequisite. Also, the skilful use of well-chosen questions to engage and challenge learners, and to consolidate understanding, is an important feature, as is the effective use of assessment for learning.
School self-evaluation for school improvement
School self-evaluation can be a fundamental force in achieving school improvement and this review establishes what the key debates are in relation to school self-evaluation, what principles and processes are associated with it, and what the implications are for school self-evaluation as a means of leading school improvement. The review also incorporates a framework for conducting self-evaluation and case study examples from systems and schools that have previously undergone the process.
School self-evaluation is a process by which members of staff in a school reflect on their practice and identify areas for action to stimulate improvement in the areas of pupil and professional learning. The process can be located on a number of continua that define the exact nature of the process and reflect the context in which it is occurring. These dimensions include: summative-formative; internally-externally driven; and whether self-evaluation is conducted as a top-down or bottom-up process. Furthermore, schools should reflect on their context and the appropriate position and blend elements to optimise the impact of school self-evaluation on pupil and professional learning.
In terms of school improvement, teachers and school leaders are the key change agents for improvement and self-evaluation is a necessary but insufficient ingredient to stimulate school improvement. Five phases are outlined for school improvement activity:
Phase 1 – specific intervention and the highlighting of the importance of culture in any change process
Phase 2 – focus on teacher action research and school self-review
Phase 3 – building on the emerging school effectiveness knowledge base
Phase 4 – scaling up reforms
Phase 5 – systemic reform.
School self-evaluation should be conducted within a coherent framework and underpinned by a set of structures that support systematic processes to collect a range of data from diverse sources and inform action to improve pupil and professional learning.
The evidence within this review suggests that if individual contexts can create supportive environments, school self-evaluation has an important role to play in supporting pupil and professional learning.
School leaders are under considerable pressure to demonstrate the contribution of their work to school improvement, which has resulted in the creation of a wide range of literature which addresses leadership in the context of school improvement. This review pays particular attention to issues including transformational leadership, instructional/pedagogical leadership and distributed leadership.
The evidence examined by this review indicates that effective school leadership is important but, in isolation, is not a sufficient condition for successful schools.
The review draws particular attention to two concepts of leadership: instructional/pedagogical and transformational. While there is evidence that instructional/pedagogical leadership has been shown to be important for promoting better academic outcomes for students, it is concluded that the two forms of leadership are not mutually exclusive. A combination of strategies can be most beneficial in ensuring school success and most leadership effects operate indirectly to promote student outcomes by supporting and enhancing conditions for teaching and learning through direct impacts on teachers and their work.
School leaders, particularly principals, have a key role to play in setting direction and creating a positive school culture including the proactive school mindset, and supporting and enhancing staff motivation and commitment needed to foster improvement and promote success for schools in challenging circumstances.
Hyperlinks to the reports:
Effective teaching: http://www.cfbt.com/en-GB/Research/Research-library/2013/r-effective-teaching-2013
Successful leadership: http://www.cfbt.com/en-GB/Research/Research-library/2013/r-successful-leadership-2013
Assessment for learning: http://www.cfbt.com/en-GB/Research/Research-library/2013/r-assessment-for-learning-2013
From exclusion to inclusion: http://www.cfbt.com/en-GB/Research/Research-library/2013/r-from-exclusion-to-inclusion-2013
School self-evaluation: http://www.cfbt.com/en-GB/Research/Research-library/2013/r-school-self-evaluation-2013