Effective Schools

Can we ever agree what an ‘effective’ school looks like?

In the 1990s researchers identified what they considered to be the characteristics of effective schools.

Sammons et al. (1995) and Reynolds et al. (1996) identified eleven factors:

  1. shared leadership (firm purposeful, participative – the leading professional);
  2. shared vision and goals (unity of purpose, consistency of practice, collegiality and collaboration);
  3. a learning environment (an orderly atmosphere and attractive environment);
  4. concentration on teaching and learning (maximisation of learning time, academic emphasis, focus on achievement);
  5. high expectations (all round, clear communication of expectations, providing intellectual challenge);
  6. positive reinforcement (clear and fair discipline, feedback);
  7. monitoring progress (monitoring pupil performance, evaluating school performance);
  8. pupil rights and responsibilities (high pupil self-esteem, positions of responsibility, control of work);
  9. purposeful teaching (efficient organisation, clarity of purpose, structured lessons, adaptive practice);
  10. a learning organisation (school-based staff development);
  11. home-school partnership (parental involvement).

It would be difficult to disagree with the above ingredients but you could certainly add to them. Further research over the decades have but these essentials are all in there. The real issue we have is that there is no commonly agreed definition of ‘effective’ – there never has been and researchers measure in different ways.

If we delve into the dictionary definitions then there is no agreement there either although some are worded in a similar way.

Here’s what Cambridge Dictionary says:

successful or achieving the results that you want.

Collins says:

Something that is effective works well and produces the results that were intended.

Merriam-Webster says:

producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.

It seems therefore that it is the intended outcome that is the guiding factor. If you want an adequate result then that is effective. But can adequate ever be effective for some schools? Certainly not. Some aim far higher and some so high that effective is unattainable or just plain ridiculous.

In addition, Coe and Fitz-Gibbon note,

School effectiveness research (SER) has tended to define ‘effectiveness’ in terms of a restricted and often inappropriate range of outcomes…and it has often been characterised by unsupported assumptions about the homogeneity of school ‘effects’.

Should we therefore reduce things down to what really matters – wellbeing. The health of an organisation enables everything else to take place. Sustainability is key.

The WHO definition of a healthy workplace is as follows:

A healthy workplace is one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety and well-being of workers and the sustainability of the workplace by considering the following, based on identified needs:

• health and safety concerns in the physical work environment;
• health, safety and well-being concerns in the psychosocial work environment including organization of work and
workplace culture;
• personal health resources in the workplace;
• ways of participating in the community to improve the health of workers, their families and other members of the community.


Reynolds, D., Sammons, P., Stoll, L., Barber, M. and Hillman, J. (1996) School effectiveness and school improvement in the United Kingdom. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 7 (2), 133–58.

Sammons, P., Hillman, J. and Mortimore, P. (1995) Key Characteristics of Effective Schools: a Review of School Effectiveness Research. Report by the Institute of Education, University of London, for the Office for Standards in Education.

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