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What defines ‘school’ success?

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Although I have had this title in my head for a few weeks now having spoken to many thousands of students and hundreds of education sector staff over the years, in light of recent events, I had considered shelving it. But I have had a rethink and believe that success should be celebrated in all areas we can find it.

What do you remember from your school days? I remember a German Exchange visit, it was so good I went two years running! I remember my Geography and Biology teacher, who inspired me to want to be a teacher and I remember having a raft of Student Leadership opportunities. All of these happened outside the classroom because of dedicated education staff who always went above and beyond for their students.

Nothing has changed since I left school in 1991. In my experience, all professionals in the education sector are still going above and beyond everyday to make lasting memories for children and young people which will undoubtedly influence the adults they become.

So why do we rarely include this wealth of enrichment and opportunity in a measure of a schools success? In fact, I often say to sector leaders I work with, maximise your ‘Overall Effectiveness’ evidence because these are the important bits that make a school a school!

However, it is a brave leader who doesn’t focus their efforts on evidencing great classroom practice or ‘well sequenced, broad and balanced curriculum’ in the current regime.

In recent weeks I have met some amazing leaders and staff and spoken to enlightened children and young people. Some of the activities that in my mind constitute success are sampled here, paraphrased of course but the essence remains the same:

  • Year 4 pupil – my Mum is poorly so my teacher stayed with me at lunchtime so I could make two cards, one for my Mum and one for Grandma who looks after us when Mum isn’t well.
  • Year 7 student – loves Maths, not always because of the lessons but because his teacher provides opportunity for involvement in national competitions where he gets to celebrate his passion and skill with other students who ‘love Maths’ as much as he does.
  • Year 8 student – the Librarian at school helped us write to all these inspirational women who agreed to come and visit our school at lunchtime today to celebrate International Women’s Day with us. It’s inspiring to know that all these women come from our local area, and lots of them ate the cupcakes we made!
  • Year 9 student – my teacher took us to visit a theatre to see a Shakespeare Play, its hard to learn it but now I find it much easier because I remember seeing the play. I had never been to the theatre before.
  • Year 10 student – I love to read, I don’t really have books at home but my teacher asks me what books we should buy for the school library because he knows I will read them.
  • Year 11 student – we have been to an apprenticeship event and had speakers come in, I had no idea what I wanted to do after school but our Careers Advisor gave us chance to speak to loads of different people and now I know I want an Apprenticeship in Scaffolding.
  • Year 12 – our staff know us as individuals, they take the time, all the time, to arrange things for us to broaden our experiences and be our best academic selves. I have developed an empathy for others thanks to the experiences I have had in school and they have inspired me to pursue a career in Medicine.

Honestly, I could go on for pages and pages. Children and young people are a product of themselves, their family and their educational experience. I do not know a single person who works in an educational setting who aspires to be less than their best for the learners they meet, this is success and these experiences are what these children and young people will remember when they are as old as me, about their school and college days.

So, unlike a number of consultants who have recently said they do not support schools to speak about and prepare for regulatory inspection, I will continue to do so. I hope that my work with the sector builds confidence, breaks down myths and enables leaders to feel emboldened to celebrate what success looks like in their setting for the children and young people they serve. I hope that my experience of the ups and downs of the regulatory process, without allowing it to define me thanks to my family and fabulous professionals I have worked with over the years, will offer support and help leaders at all levels navigate the pitfalls in some small way.

This is not to say that I do not believe there needs to be significant change to the regulatory process but that will not be a swift process, as we have heard, and neither should it be if we are to avoid replacing the current system with one with equally fundamental flaws.

I am incredibly privileged to interact with children and young people so frequently which offers me balance and joy. I only hope that our school staff and leaders afford themselves the same luxury to avert another tragedy and such profound loss.

Sarah Young, Young+

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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