School improvement is more predictable than you think

School improvement is more predictable than you think



There are 4 principles that underpin change in any organisation, whether you’re a school, global business or champion sports team. These are:

1. A case for change

Why change at all? This is where you must start. Headteachers I’ve met over the years have shared their various targets with me for the future. To raise student attainment, to become an outstanding rated school, or to narrow the gap. All good and worthwhile goals for a school to have, but the part that was missing in many cases was how they were going to get there. I would ask, “What are you going to change to move from good to outstanding?” to which the headteacher would often reply, “Change? We’re not going to change anything, we’re just going to do things better until we get there”. Unfortunately this isn’t how it works. What make a school good isn’t enough to make it outstanding. What gets students good results isn’t enough to get them great ones. What has really happened is that the school’s systems and processes have reached their limit. They have given you good student results but they won’t give you great ones. Even when things are going well, if you want to move up a gear then you must be willing to change.

2. A compelling vision of the future

Now you’re coming around to the idea that things will have to change in order to improve. This is a good start. Next you must tie that to a compelling vision of the future. This isn’t a school vision statement that says things like ‘Integrity. Respect. Achievement’. These are just words that without context are meaningless. No. What you want is a vision that staff can see themselves working in. Something almost tangible that they can touch and hold, because if you create that then you create belief. Once you have belief on your side you will find leaving the old way behind is quite easy. Think of it this way. I come along and I tell you next week you have to move house. It doesn’t matter how settled you are in your home, or even that everything is setup right. No. You have to move house in 7 days. Right now you’re having a negative reaction, because I’m deciding that you must change without giving you a vision of the future. Now this time I tell you that in 7 days you must move house. Your new house has 6 bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool, it’s own cinema room and comes with a personal chef. And best of all it won’t cost you any extra on the mortgage! Do you want to move into this house in 7 days? Of course you do because I painted a tangible picture. It’s going to be stressful doing it in only 7 days, but you can imagine yourself relaxing in the pool after a hard day, enjoying a movie in the cinema room at the weekends and experiencing the pure bliss of never having to cook a meal again. You can overcome the short-term stress because you understand the long-term gains. That’s what you must do with your school vision.

3. A sustained capability to change

Changing is quite easy. Making change stick is incredibly hard. This is because it requires people to break habits and learn new ways. Let’s imagine that you want to change how planning happens lessons so that you can drive up the quality of teaching and learning. You create new templates for staff to use, you give training sessions on the new expectations and you bang the drum at every opportunity you get. Staff attend the sessions and say all the right things, but if left unchecked, some will default back to the previous way. This is why you must build into your plan for change someway of ensuring that everyone follows it consistently. Once one person begins reverting back to the old ways of working, others will see this and follow. Why spend time and energy learning new things if others can get away with the old ways?

4. A credible plan to execute

Finally we reach the stage of how you will execute the change. This is the part that trips most organisations up. It doesn’t matter if you’re a school or a global tech firm. Both suffer from overestimating their ability to execute change themselves. You need 2 things to execute change. The capacity to do so and the right tools for the job. We come back to a house metaphor. To move you must pack up all your belongings and transport it to the new house. A credible plan to execute this would be to hire a big van. Seems logical, and it’s what many do. The van is the tool you need to move your belongings, but now you must address capacity. Let’s imagine you’re pulling 12 hour days and you’ve got a weekend away coming up. In the next 7 days you have no time off to move. This gives you no capacity. You’ll have to hire a removals firm. Applied to a school the challenge occurs because how do you find time out of your already hectic schedule? You might have the right tools but do you have the required capacity? This is something to think about, because if you can’t execute your plan then you can’t bring about change. This is the reason that so many businesses bring in external support to change, and it’s something that should always be an option for you.

If you would like to learn more about this topic then you can attend one of our upcoming school improvement strategy sessions. You can find tickets for upcoming sessions by clicking here, or alternatively enquire about an in-depth session just for you own school by clicking here

Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker