Global update: Priorities shift to ensuring the best performance

Heading into the summer term, staff development and quality of teaching are again the focus of attention

Now we’re on the other side of the half-term break, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee a hazy memory, our colleagues from Canada, England and Sweden have a clear path to progress delivery and quality of education in their regions.

Quebec

Mike Dubeau, Director General of the Western Quebec School Board said that he was enjoying the opportunity to do some systemic leadership rather than system leadership, which had occupied his time during lockdown. However, systems issues still account for the majority of his time. These were:

  • Supporting a school as it dealt with a major flood.
  • Implementing the recent changes to the Quebec Provincial laws which particularly impact on the work of the schools in the English Sector of the Province.
  • Preparing for the possible threat of industrial action.
  • Building a working relationship with the new minister of education assigned to the English Sector.

On the systemic side Mike said he has planned to visit all of the Board’s schools during the school year to determine with principals the quality of teaching and learning and if necessary, what he and his team could improve collaboratively.  He has already completed a number of visits and for some he has been part of a learning three. The focus was on identifying levels of staff development and from them, developing plans for staff growth. He was pleased with the positive way these visits have been received by the principals and staff and intended to use the outcomes to shape the Board’s response to the needs of its schools in this critical area of activity.


England

Sir Jon Coles, CEO of the United Learning Trust and a co-founder of Challenge Partners recalled how there were thirty schools when he joined United Learning more than ten years ago. The number is now 93, of which 75 are state funded, and expansion plans continue. Schools in the trust teach more than 55,000 students. The unique blend of both fee-paying schools and state-funded schools in England means United Learning has a rich knowledge base to draw upon to aid its continual improvement. The schools are widely spread geographically, although the longer-term ambition of the Trust is to develop clusters of schools.

Sir John said he sees the bill that will follow the latest government education White Paper as a continuation of the tightening of legislation in education that began with the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988. He added that the government continues to move to a contractual arrangement with its schools that regulate minimal expected levels of performance. The drive for excellence, meanwhile, is left to the profession.

Sir John and I devised teaching schools in a vastly different educational landscape to that of today. The concept then was to create an outstanding school in a particular context which has the capacity to share knowledge with similarly located schools. The current designated Teaching Schools have an increasing commitment to in-service teacher and leadership training.  Where they were established as intended in areas of underperformance, they would continue to make a major contribution to improving the situation in their locality as originally envisaged. If they had been required to carry out this role, their effectiveness could be compromised.

Meanwhile, school staff are in danger of becoming quasi health workers. This has been driven by:

  • A growing increase in the number of students with mental health issues.
  • The concern by school leaders for the well-being of staff and pupils.
  • The roles staff had been required to undertake during the lockdown to stem the spread of the virus.

As a former headteacher, I know from experience that it is an impossible situation to ignore. However, these roles required professionally trained staff to carry them out, which colleagues often find difficult to fill. Until this staffing gap is bridged, it will at times continue to place many schools in a difficult position.


Sweden

Mats Rosenkvist, CEO of Successful Schools Sweden said that in Sweden, schools are wrapping up the academic year now in mid June. After two years of pandemic this summer holiday is something that teachers and head teachers have been looking forward to and is well-earned. Mats added that the half-term break around Easter had not been enough for recovery.

Sweden is heading for a general election in September and education is one of the top issues in the debate, which primarily is focused on:

  • Inequality between schools in terms of segregation and the quality of education on offer. This mirrors growing problems around young people in society.
  • The publicly-financed free school voucher system, where there is a growing attitude that private schools should not be able to use tax resources to generate profits for school corporates listed on the stock exchange.

There is growing interest in the quality of teaching in the classroom, through actually observing the teaching and through guided reflection and dialogue to improve practice. Mats said this would provide a great opportunity for Swedish education, for educators and their students.


We are grateful for these contributions by Mike, Sir Jon and Mats.

We will be carrying a detailed description of the methods used by Mike Dubeau to review the quality of teaching and learning in the Board’s schools at a later date.

George

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