How to build a winning school: 5 tips to create outstanding learning opportunities

How to build a winning school: 5 tips to create outstanding learning opportunities



Every school leader I’ve met is passionate about improving their school. Having spent the last few years working across the UK, I’ve been lucky enough to work with hundreds of schools of all shapes and sizes. From the leading independents to the leafy primaries, all schools have a surprisingly lot in common when it comes to creating outstanding learning opportunities. With this in mind I’ve compiled 5 simple tips to help you along that journey.

1. Cure the cause instead of treating the symptoms

Changing government policy is one of the most challenging aspects in education, and it’s the one thing that school leaders consistently cite as holding back their school. However, this isn’t actually the case. If changing policy was the real limitation on school performance, then no school would excel because all work to the same government guidelines. It’s no different than a business pointing to a poor economy while their competitors succeed. Schools don’t need to go out and sell products, but they are in an economy themselves. You’re in a ‘policy economy’ where each year you’re faced with new challenges, and if your school doesn’t prepare for this you’ll always be limited in what you can do. The underlying cause that holds back most schools is that teachers aren’t able to fully focus on their job as a teacher. This is because administration, paperwork, planning and anything else that isn’t teaching, all needs to be completed manually by staff. This makes it very time intensive, and you can only begin to improve learning outcomes once you reduce that burden on teachers. If there’s nothing you can trim from a teacher’s workload, then look to technology as a means to improve their capability, productivity and consistency when it comes to completing paperwork. Get that right and you’ll have no trouble overcoming policy changes.

2. Ditch what isn’t working

Schools that excel are the ones who ditch what isn’t working for them. There is no better example of this than when it comes to capturing data for marking and feedback. Teachers spend hours upon hours every week marking work and evidencing it in case Ofsted show up one day, but do you realise that Ofsted don’t even look at this? It’s an Ofsted myth. What they are looking for is how data is being used to drive up student performance. That means multi-coloured pen marking, writing ‘verbal feedback given’ in books and duplicating lesson plans for the evidence cache are all meaningless activities that teachers are doing. Ditch those practices today and free up teachers to spend more time helping students to develop and improve.

3. Think outside of the box and try new things

If you limit your thinking to the education field alone you will never take anything more than an incremental step when it comes to improving your school. Think outside of the box and you can make quantum leaps towards that goal. Top law firms utilise a strict hierarchy when it comes to maximising productivity. Junior lawyers and legal assistants will pick up much of the admin and paperwork of the more experienced lawyers at a firm, freeing them up to do more high value work. This works because they have collaborative IT systems that enable everyone to keep up to date on the same document. That means you don’t need to get 5 people around a table to hold a meeting. That can be delivered online, or annotations and feedback can be left right in the document. Implement Google Apps for Education in your school and try the same thing. Employ support staff to pick up as much admin and paperwork from teachers as possible, freeing up those teachers so that they have more time to develop great lessons.

4. It’s about teachers first, students second

A school’s biggest focus is to ensure its students achieve, but that can’t be achieved without a team of motivated and driven teachers. The happier, and better your teachers perform, the better the outcomes are for students. Instead of putting on after hours catch up sessions, or asking teachers to work longer and harder, find ways to reduce their workload. Teaching isn’t about quantity, it’s all about quality. It only takes one great lesson to inspire a student for a lifetime, but when teachers are working between 59 and 63 hours a week (according to the DofE), there is little time for them to focus on improving upon the quality of their lessons no matter how much they would like to. It’s your job as a school leader to solve that problem.

5. Stop doing admin

In a study by Patrick Bambrick-Santoyo, an American school leadership expert, he found that headteachers spend around 50% of their time on administration tasks and operational issues, and only 6% on improving the quality of teaching and learning. I’ve seen this first hand, with headteachers locked away in their office filling out spreadsheets. My advice is to stop doing this right now. Delegate it, and if you can’t right now hire someone you can delegate it to! You can’t drive performance by sitting behind a desk filling in paperwork. You have to be out on the corridors, in the staff room, and visiting the classrooms to motivate and inspire your staff. You don’t have to be a charismatic, larger than life leader, and it’s actually a good thing if you’re not (research suggests that charismatic leaders weaken their organisations rather than strengthen them). If you’re content to sit behind a desk and not take the initiative as the leader of your school your staff will do exactly the same. They’re just following the tone that you’ve set, so if your school performances isn’t what you want it to be, first look to your own actions before looking to others. That’s where you will find the most answers.


Put these 5 tips into practice in your own school and you’ll begin seeing improvements. If you’d like to know more about how you can create outstanding learning opportunities in your school’s classrooms then check out our upcoming events to see when we’re in your area by clicking here.

Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker