What is the secret formula for a successful school?

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I am lucky enough to be on the SSAT leadership course ‘Leading Outstanding Schools’. We basically visit four ‘Outstanding schools’ and see how they run things. I’ve been to two so far and they’ve been fantastic opportunities to analyse what makes success.

Surely there must be something that connects all successful schools?

What is it?

Here are my thoughts…..

1.Strong leadership – ‘My way or the Highway’?

Not just strong leadership. I mean really strong leadership. Someone who knows HOW to lead and HOW to manage. Not just someone with great ideas. We all have great ideas but many lack the skill to manage, develop and support staff. In my career so far I could count on one hand those who’ve done this well. I really admire and respect those people. You’ve got to be an incredibly strong person. But it’s not just ‘my way or the highway’, it’s more than that. ‘My way’ needs to be an effective and workable way.

2. A balanced team

It takes a strong person to create a leadership team that covers all the skills needed to run a school including those that are your weaknesses. I guess few Head teachers have the opportunity to start from scratch. Do enough Head teachers strategically appoint in their team or do they just fill a vacancy?

3. Trust

In the schools I visited the Heads very clearly told us about how they trust their staff to get on with their jobs. It was clear they did. It doesn’t mean leaving them to go alone but also it doesn’t mean micromanaging. They expected their team to ‘perform’ but it wasn’t prescriptive. I’ve heard a Head say ‘I don’t care how we make progress but I expect us to make it!’. This allows for innovation, collaboration and development but with independence and morale boosting trust.

4. Know your audience

In both the schools it was very clear that the senior team knew their students, parents and catchment and the school had systems and rules that worked for these children. At one of the schools all delegates were quite shocked about the systems and couldn’t see them working back in our own schools but it worked for these children. It provided them with what they needed to succeed. This is very much a case of ‘one size’ doesn’t fit all.

5. Recruitment

One of the Heads told us that at interview if a candidate does not teach a lesson that is at least ‘Good’ they don’t go through to interview. He also said that he told candidates from the outset what the expectations are at his school and if they’re not prepared to meet these then they should withdraw. Extreme? Actually probably not. So why don’t all Heads do this? because they would end up without a full complement of staff. We struggle to get certain subject teachers even to come to interview. And then lessons are not often anything spectacular. It’s a risky strategy.

The other school has a less risky strategy. ‘Grow your own’. Several staff had been to the school themselves, gone away to study and come back to teach there. Who else knows a school as much as a student who has been there?! So, pushing this model further, is it worth investing in students at Key Stage 5 who could be your possible teachers of the future? It’s a long term strategy but it could well work.

So they are my first 5 thoughts. I’m due at school number 3 after the holiday so I think I will add further thoughts then.

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