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Ben Newmark

Ben Newmark

Jan 19, 2023
21 tweets

1. School improvement. A thread. School improvement has to be incremental and gradual. This is poorly understood because our accountability measures are short term and high stakes. This has allowed transformational high falutin' models to have huge and destructive influence..

2. A myth has developed that it's possible to dramatically improve outcomes in a year. This is bizarre given how few examples of this there are. It's incentivised the system to pursue magic bullet solutions to deep and embedded problems..
3.. when these fail a whole other raft of new things are often brought in very quickly. These too fail because they ride over and delete initiatives and ideas that hadn't delivered the impossible..
4.. at worst you can get sort of "scorched earth" mentalities. The idea that because a school has struggled in the past it must be crap so a broom is needed to sweep everything away and start again..
5.. this is the dreaded assembly in which already beaten and bruised staff are told "some of you will be told to leave the bus. Those of you who want to stay must get on our bus. This is "restructuring" and "starting again."
6. It's renaming a school as if what's happened before is so shameful it should be erased from memory like a disgraced Egyptian pharaoh..
7. This doesn't work because the reasons schools struggle are almost invariably deep rooted and complex. It also creates a narrative of failure so strong it demoralises and paralyses. It's also heartbreakingly unfair on staff who've stuck with a school in the hardest times..
8. And it deletes their and the achievements of pupils as if nothing good ever happened. And it did. In even the most troubled of schools there are hardworking children and adults doing brilliant things..
9. And nuclear top down mega blitz solutions don't work. At best they appear to work for a bit. Long enough to appease The Powerful People.
10.. the certainty and hubris required to launch this sort of thing means it's really hard to learn lessons, admit mistakes or even stop to take stock. Always onward! Upward! Go somewhere! Look busy! Change this! Change that! Change everything!
11. Sometimes schools are genuinely in crisis. Of course. Sometimes change is needed but you can't do this again and again and again while still expecting respect and credibility. It's a hand you can play only once. At most. And for it to work it has to work..
12. And too often it doesn't because the measures used are unrealistic and poorly thought through. Take outcomes. Logically if you believe in curriculum and good schools you have to expect these to improve last because children sitting exams..
13. Are those who've been in a genuinely improving school for the least amount of time. If you think outcomes can dramatically improve in a year (not saying they can't improve at all, they should) then you have to dismiss the importance of all preceding years..
14. So what's better? Sustained and incremental *enhancement* Those looking to make schools better should start with finding out what's already working well. This establishes a base. It allows people to see how supposed solutions might override things that are working..
15. It shows respect to a community and it allows the development of a positive self image and narrative that's necessary for genuine and sustained school improvement..
16.. Once you have that base you can work out what needs to be improved and then properly take into account opportunity cost and what's possible within the constraints we all have to work in..
17.. sadly this is an option that's often only open to those schools that are already successful. They have the space and time to improve in the only way anything big and complex can ever really improve. Those that struggle the most can find themselves welded into..
18.. the sorts of transformative myth making that grinds them down year after year..
19.. This isn't an argument for low standards, accepting a failure to improve or letting things just roll on by for years. Some cliches are true. Kids only get one shot at school. This is very important..
20.. but wanting really badly to utterly transform the experience of every child in a school very rapidly doesn't make it possible! And if by trying we get in the way of genuine improvement then it isn't adult or responsible to pursue pipedreams..
21.. and finally beware of dismissing real concerns and issues with snappy soundbites with no substance. Stuff like "we have to do this for the children". We *all* want to make things better. It isn't a competition over who wants it more. It's about what's best for the school.
Ben Newmark

Ben Newmark

Pound Shop Peaky Blinder. History. Teaching. Leadership. SEND and learning disability.
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