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NFER March 2020
NFER March 2020

Focus not on just inside the school but outside the gates as well

March 11, 2020, 14:09 GMT+1
Read in about 7 minutes
  • Relationships and community should be at the heart of learning, say Malcolm Groves and John West-Burnham...
Focus not on just inside the school but outside the gates as well

What’s the central message you wish to convey in your new book, Flipping Schools?

JWB: I think that our work together over the past few years has indicated that on the one hand, schools are working incredibly hard and teachers and school leaders are probably more effective now than they’ve ever been. But, for a variety of reasons, progress is not happening the way that it should given the amount of input.

MG: Part of the argument is that the focus has been on what happens inside the school and only what happens in the classroom affects educational outcomes. And while that is incredibly important, all of the evidence that we review in the book suggests that that actually accounts for only 20 or 30 per cent of the factors that influence educational achievements. Therefore, if you’re going to break through that you have to do something differently and that involves finding a way to influence what happens beyond the school gate.

In the book, you talk of the need for more ‘outward-facing’ schools rooted in local communities. What are the hallmarks of such schools – what is it that they do differently?

MG: We pick out four features for schools to work on. The first is being a place of trust and mutual respect. And that applies at all levels, to partners, pupils, staff and parents. That sense of belonging, that sense of attachment is really important. Relationships, relationships, relationships is the way one Head put it to us. You get that right, then everything else follows. The second is a place of value and values. And that’s, in a large part, to do with the curriculum. The purpose of the curriculum is to help people grow as individuals and as people who relate to other people. We explore the implications of that sense of personalised learning and paying attention to the individual.

The third building block of change is about the way schools engage with all of their stakeholders and encourage genuine partnership and participation. And the fourth feature of the outward facing school is acting as a hub of networks and support for learning that begins to reach beyond the school and says we’re all involved in the education of our young people.

JWB: Where you have a strong community then schools tend to thrive. Our argument is that it isn’t available to lots of schools and, therefore, simply doing more and more on the school side of things just isn’t going to crack it. And therefore, there’s a need to begin to explore different criteria, but also to be much more overt and interventionist in terms of actually working to build cultural capital and social capital. And one of our key arguments is that schools need to be micro communities, they need to work not so much as classic organisations but as communities which have all the characteristics that Malcolm has just listed, and then to begin to engage with the broader community. We know that when communities change, then often schools change as well.

What do you make of Ofsted’s recent messaging around ‘stuck schools’ that have failed to attain Good or Outstanding since 2006? Have you seen anything in Ofsted’s diagnosis and response that chimes with your own observations?

MG: We argue that we have an accountability system that is no longer fit for purpose. And is, therefore, driving unproductive outcomes. And so it’s partly challenging the whole global education reform movement. It’s because we’re confused about who the users of that accountability system are because of the overemphasis on parental choice. We have different expectations of what we want from the system and yet we tried to measure it all in the same way. The statistics behind lots of the measurements, which produces the metrics by which schools are judged, we argue are not fit for purpose. We’re measuring the wrong things in the wrong way. And we’re using those measurements to draw wrong conclusions and using them to make judgements rather than to ask powerful questions.

You say schools must be in the business of attempting to build social capital within their local area. So what is social capital and what would schools’ efforts at building that look like?

JWB: In the broad sense, it is the extent to which the quality of relationships, networks, interactions and, going back again to Malcolm’s four points, components. Social capital is the quality of community life. Across the country, the range that we have, particularly in England, is huge. We have the range in terms of social class, the gap, the polarisation that we have as a society. Some schools are really blessed because they serve rich communities high in social capital. Other schools are far more challenged because they are serving communities in which there is low trust, poor communication, low aspirations and expectations. We believe that those points have been deliberately ignored by policymakers over the past 20-30 years, simply because they’re massive. It’s the same as the whole issue of economic poverty. We know there’s a direct correlation between poverty and academic success. And yet we don’t address the issue of child poverty. For us it says, you can’t actually have an accountability system which does not take into account the fact that 25 or so per cent of children live in deep poverty.

Part of the image of flipping schools, or turning inside out, or being outward facing is that if a school builds the quality of relationships inside sufficiently, then it is in a position where it can turn inside out and reflect and radiate those relationships back outwards. And that begins over time to influence and shape, the quality of life around it and therefore the environment in which you can pursue educational achievements.

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