Sunday, 13 October 2013

Exploring what might make Bradford's schools better...


Bradford's schools aren't very good. And haven't got noticeably better - at least in terms of outcomes - over the past decade or so. This should concern us and we're told that there are strategies, partnerships and policies in place to turn things round. Importantly, we're told that most of Bradford's primary schools are, in Ofsted terms, 'good' or 'excellent'.

This raises an important question - if the schools are so good, why are their results so poor? Perhaps we're measuring and assessing the wrong things?

By way of a little help here's some findings from a study in New York:

In our empirical analysis, we find that input measures associated with a traditional resource-based model of education – class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree – are not correlated with school effectiveness in our sample. Indeed, our data suggest that increasing resource-based inputs may actually lower school effectiveness.

So it just might be there case that we are measuring the wrong things in assessing schools. Indeed, the new York study showed that the traditional observations about class size and teacher qualifications might be wrong - where there's a focus on these inputs performance is less good.

So what does make a difference? The researchers show that it's the actual teaching that matters and, more specifically, four or five particular factors: index of five policies suggested by forty years of qualitative case-studies– frequent teacher feedback, data driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and a relentless focus on academic achievement – explains roughly half of the variation in school effectiveness.

 These are very familiar aspects of education to those familiar with either the systems used in the far east or (closer to home) the typical private day school. Yet, when 'leaders' from Bradford's education system are asked about what's happening they point cheerily to how good they are:

They are recognised for things like progress, leadership and management, and health and safety – not just attainment.

Yet - at least in this one study - there's no evidence that these measures of school performance are very relevant to the achievements of the pupils at that school. Perhaps we should start to increase teaching time, provide weekly reports to parents, set high standards and insist on intensive support for those who need it.

Maybe that is already happening in Bradford's schools. I hope so.


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