10 steps to a world class education system

Written by: HTU | Published:

Ahead of this year’s Whole Education conference, David Crossley draws on the views of national and international education leaders to define how we can build a world class system. He offers 10 key ways forward for our schools

In the new book Sustainable Transformation – An inside out school led approach, I have brought together the reflections of a range of national and international school and system leaders who draw on their extensive experiences of past approaches to school improvement to explore how we can best build a truly world-class education system. 

An inside-out approach is about schools seizing the agenda. The aim of the book is to offer a sustainable approach to school change and transformation and to inspire and encourage teachers, aspiring leaders and school leaders to have the confidence to make a difference.

The 10 key points below arise from the vision of forward-thinking educators who have informed or contributed directly to the book. The challenge for all of us is how to take their ideas forward to make education, in its widest sense, truly world-class.

1, Recognise that there is much to inspire us within our systems now

The schools and locality areas that have been included in the book, and there are many more, have been creative while at the same time have met or usually exceeded the accountability demands of their system. Further, part of the reason they have achieved what they have in the conventional ways in which they are judged is because of what they have done.

2, Develop plans that move beyond narrow system demands and compliance

This is demonstrated through practical example after example within schools, between schools and across systems. It is the most motivating and empowering way forward for all schools and systems. It is also the best way of achieving long-term sustainable improvement.

3, Recognise and use the fact that there are more good parts of schools than good schools

There are pockets of greatness and great staff in all schools. In many ways our system underuses this system-wide potential. We hope to encourage staff in schools to unleash their creativity and encourage those who are system leaders to build and design their approach to system improvement around this notion. This approach both motivates, affirms and validates strengths throughout the system, not just in our very best schools.

4, Encourage innovation, creativity and longer term planning and thinking while simultaneously responding to the short-term


The approach we argue for also encourages a simultaneous plan for both the immediate demands and the longer term. It avoids an undue and, in the end, debilitating focus on the here and now but is realistic and offers practical ways of responding to current demands. All the schools and localities we have studied began their innovative development before they became outstanding and it was part of why they are successful.

5, Embrace technology, make sure it is your servant but avoid trying to control it

New technologies make a personalised, more customised, and creative school experience possible and therefore are a key catalyst for transformation. But never forget the reasons why we use technology and what it enables – it is not an end in itself. When used well technology can help schools to support students and how they best learn, and this links closely to student empowerment and responsibility for learning.

6, Focus on abandonment and redeployment of existing resources

A key focus of the book argues that real transformation is not necessarily about new resources but making the most of the resources we have. All the examples we studied did not simply add to what they did before. They all abandoned things and redeployed resources, including staff. They did not just rely on additional resources from governments either – they knew what they wanted to achieve and found ways of realising their goals.

7, Focus on the quality of implementation

Remember most things fail not due to the quality of the idea but because of the quality of implementation. Successful implementation is linked to culture, as at its heart it involves belief as well as fit-for-purpose and sustainable systems and processes. In practice this means systems and processes that work not just at the beginning of a school year, but on a wet November day too!

8, Effective collaboration is the key

Any school can do anything – but not everything. All too often collaboration is an add-on to an already too demanding day job. So begin at a school level exploring ways to more effectively share the load; first in day-to-day teaching, find ways to reduce the isolation of teachers in individual classrooms. Moving away from the notion of the omni-capable single teacher isolated in a classroom offers an important way forward.

The key thing is enabling teachers to work in teams; give time to play to and use their different strengths, within teams and within schools, and thereby creating a better division of labour. 

Second, seek to develop effective co-operation between schools by always ensuring that when you collaborate you are clear about expected outcomes. 

9, Recognise that it is not easy to change but if you get the culture right anything is possible

While change at its best is a combination of a top-down and bottom-up process so too is resistance to change. It is not just politicians and system leaders who can stand in the way of creating a truly world-class system, teachers can be blockers too. Abandonment often involves abandoning the things that give people security and status, and can also undermine their confidence. So in the final analysis it is about creating a positive culture that is receptive to change and in which people – staff, students and others – feel supported.

10, Focus on engagement and buy-in but also on progress

If there is one thing we all now focus on more it is the achievement and progress of all young people. The approaches that work best for them and lead to better outcomes in classrooms, work best for teachers in schools and for systems as a whole. 

It is all about culture, engagement and buy-in. However, these are not enough on their own, as what is important is whether a student, teacher, school or system is moving forward and making progress. The book argues that there is another way and an alternative approach to accountability than the ones we have become dependent on. They helped raise the bar but are unlikely to raise the ceiling too. In the final analysis we have to take responsibility for and do it for ourselves.

And finally...

An inside-out approach needs a different approach to leadership, as conventional concentrated executive power is unlikely to make the most of all the talents we have. Leaders need to focus on influence, inclusion, persuasion, coaching and support as well as generating broad buy-in to share goals which they act as the guardian for. So the most important lesson is trust educators more and build a shared coalition of interest with them. If the view is taken that it is not the right time to trust educators it never will be the right time; and this in turn dramatically limits system-wide improvement, leading to a culture that creates adequacy at best rather than the excellence we all aspire for. 

As the Olympics showed so clearly, if you get the culture and aspirations right and leave those with expertise to focus on implementation it is possibly the best way to not only meet, but also to exceed expectations.SecEd

  • David Crossley is executive director of the not-for-profit Whole Education Network. For details on Sustainable Transformation, visit www.bloomsbury.com/sustainable

Whole Education Network

Whole Education believes that all young people should have a fully rounded education, developing knowledge, skills and qualities. Many of the contributors to Sustainable Transformation will be speaking to delegates at Whole Education’s National Conference on November 19 and 20 in London. Also speaking are John Cridland, David Laws, Russell Hobby, Estelle Morris, Steve Munby and David Puttman. For details, visit http://wholeedconf.wordpress.com/ and www.wholeeducation.org

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