How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better

In November, McKinsey produced a new report analysing the most improved school systems in the world. This fascinating document goes through some of the key markers on the journey from fair, through good, then great, and finally reaching outstanding. What were their key points about data?

Firstly, they noted that there were six common themes in all improving systems:

“The cross-stage interventions comprise a group of six actions that occur with equal frequency across all performance stages, but manifest differently in each one. These six interventions are: revising the curriculum and standards, ensuring an appropriate reward and remunerations structure for teachers and principals, building the technical skills of teachers and principals, assessing students, establishing data systems, and facilitating improvement through the introduction of policy documents and education laws.”

Systems moving from “poor” to “fair” used data in a very driven way:

“The system sets minimum proficiency targets for schools/students, frequent student learning assessments (linked to lesson objectives, every 3-4 weeks), and data processes to monitor progress”

Those moving from “fair” to “good” focused more on holding schools to account for each student, and for cohorts.

“The system establishes student assessments and school inspections to create reliable data on performance and to hold schools accountable for improvement. The system uses this data to identify and tackle specific areas (e.g., subjects, grades, gender) with lagging performance”

When moving from “good” to “great” schools were encouraged to let data filter down to practitioners, and ensure every teacher was fully involved in tracking and evaluating progress.

“Instructional coaches work with teachers to strengthen their skills in areas such as lesson planning, student data analysis, and in-class pedagogy. The systems cultivates ownership in schools for improvement through introducing self-evaluation for schools and making performance data more available”

And finally, from “great” to “outstanding”…

“The system sponsors and identifies examples of innovative practices in schools (teaching and learning practice, parent/community involvement practices, etc.) and then
develops mechanisms to shares these innovations across all school”

Clearly the Labour government concerned itself mainly with perceived pockets of “poor” teaching, and acted centrally to raise these to “fair”. Sadly, this process also served as a drag on those already good schools. In some senses the new government is now focussing on these schools and freeing them up with the academies program. However, good LEAs have always been good at identifying and sharing good practice, and it doesn’t yet seem entirely clear what is going to replace this. In addition, the current government is still wedded very firmly to centralised prescriptive testing regimes, whereas the top school systems have allowed professionals leeway to judge their own standards.
So as a school leader what is the message here?

  • Ensure regular collective tracking and monitoring of students, with regular moderation of these processes.
  • Set suitably challenging individual and cohort targets (e.g. with FFT, RAISEonline, etc)
  • Conduct regular, in-depth analysis of internal tracking, including breaking down by characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, deprivation, cognitive ability, etc. as well as a thorough ‘post-mortem’ after exam results.
  • Leaders and senior teachers should sit with middle managers and class teachers to discuss their understanding and use of internal school tracking. This should be an opportunity to identify areas of strength and innovation.
  • A culture of openness and sharing needs to be fostered. Every teacher should be encouraged to visit other lessons, both within the school and in other schools, and to discuss ideas with their colleagues. Share good practice, and foster a culture of innovation.

This sounds likely truly informed education.

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