Defining effective schools is like defining any organisation….difficult!
There are a plethora of studies that have been conducted over the years that point to what effectiveness looks like and so it’s worth exploring some of their findings in more detail.
The older reports and research could be seen as ‘dated’ but actually, they are still current. Plenty changes in education but a lot stays the same when it comes to pinpointing quality.
The result of a wide-ranging international research study on school development, Dalin, P. (1998). School development—theories and strategies is the most comprehensive School Development overview text ever written. This links to Dalin, P., Rolff, H. G., & Kleekamp, B. (1993). Changing the school culture. London: Cassell.
Based on research carried out at the Oslo-based international school improvement programme, Per Dalin sets the stage for a discussion of how schools can improve in the 21st century and gives an overview of the theoretical basis for school improvement.
So here we go….
The values and norms of the quality development process set out by the international Institutional Development Program (IDP) are:
1. The school is the unit of change and responsible for its own development.
2. Ownership is necessary.
3. What is best for schools can best be judged by the teachers.
4. The change process is a learning process that requires feedback.
5. The school is an open system; changes in one part of the organisation impact on other parts of the organisation.
Dalin et al argue that those with management responsibility for change and development need to believe:
1. Improvement is vital and that real needs are the focus.
2. Outcomes are partly dependent on starting points – real needs.
3. The institution itself has the main resources necessary to accomplish objectives.
4. Cooperation is critical for success.
5. Openness and trust is central for organisational development.
6. Staff development is essential for quality development.
7. Feedback from all to all is essential.
8. Colleagues and management are responsible for ongoing supervision and assessment.
9. Management has the responsibility for structuring the process and clarifying the conditions, expectations and action steps necessary.
10. Management has a major role in developing the work climate.
11. Management has the responsibility for group growth.
12. Management has responsibility for conflict management and problem solving.
13. Task of change is long-term – to change a culture.
14. Management has ultimate responsibility for securing resources, sheltering the process from undue interventions and marketing the project externally.
15. Projects and project groups are important.
16. Cooperative planning work is necessary.
17. Peer supervision is important, including: regular meetings, continuity, group size, peer supervision in classrooms, students as partners.
18. There should be planning and development of tailor-made courses to import knowledge, skills etc.
Dalin et al suggest that a learning organisation – a quality-developing school – should possess eleven characteristics:
1. Prepare for even distribution of power.
2. Develop problem-solving and negotiation skills.
3. Influence rather than authority is important.
4. Training takes place in the institution, not away from it, in real-life situations.
5. Real needs and real needs for leadership are identified.
6. Formal leaders need to step back.
7. Necessary competencies are identified and developed.
8. Openness and trust by school leaders needs to be practised.
9. School leaders to receive feedback and learn new skills.
10. Several perspectives have to be included: individual teacher, colleagues, students, parents, researchers, politicians and decision makers.
11. Support: (i) school-based curriculum and staff development; (ii) management and organisational development support; (iii) internal assessment process to provide feedback.
When considering the above, it’s worth remembering that School Improvement is fundamentally different in its methodology and interests to School Effectiveness.