Excellence by aspiration: a National Centre for Excellence in Schools
One of the big issues facing schools in 2019 is the excellence or attainment gap: high-attaining pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do not in many cases make even an average level of progress between KS2 and KS4 and underperform on a range of indicators from Progress 8 to GCSE scores. This has been widely, rightly, commented on and condemned by Ofsted and by independent experts.
In my new book From Able to Remarkable: Help Your Students Become Expert Learners (Crown House, 2019) I devote a final chapter to exploration of what ‘excellence’ means in schools (because no-one seems to know) and why it is important for us to know where we are going with our high-attaining pupils. If we don’t know where our learning journey is heading, we are unlikely to arrive and the excellence gap will grow. The chapter pulls no punches.
Among my remedies I offer a National Centre for Excellence in Schools. It would, among much else:
· Set up a single examining body to ensure fair, uniform and excellent provision of specifications and exams
· Abolish Ofqual. Repurpose Ofsted to offer explicit guidance on excellent provision in schools and colleges, subject to the independent assessment and scrutiny of this new National Centre
· Halt the expansion of academy and grammar school provision unless and until the National Centre can verify evidentially the contribution of such schools first to addressing and reducing the attainment gap and secondly, quite simply, to excellence
· Take over responsibility for teacher training and endorse only excellent providers
· Set out some benchmarks and definitions of what ‘excellent’ actually looks like in vocational,
technical and academic education, benchmarks which are backed up by research (and common sense) and are practical for immediate introduction
You may disagree with some or all these points. Perhaps I may at least persuade you that radical changes are needed. I liken this to gardening. Deadheading may produce a few new flowers but a hard prune will stimulate hormonal growth and long-term plant health and vitality. If we are all to understand what excellent aspiration and achievement looks like in our classrooms then we need some evidence-based benchmarks. To that end, I’m looking for leadership from universities (sadly lacking currently) and, of course, schools and teachers.
So, if no one else will tell us what excellence looks like in our classrooms, we’ll have to do it ourselves.
As always, teachers to the rescue. There are so many brilliant examples to champion. Step forward the Research Schools Network, sharing good practice and acting as a model for future hubs to develop locally. Stand up proud, researchEd, providing evidence-based interventions in schools and walking the excellence walk. TeachMeets likewise.
Not least, excellence can be modelled by your and my students with their own toolkit of excellence, a Meccano kit of knowledge embracing the periodic table of the elements, the pattern of musical scales, key formulae in maths and an enriching vocabulary list in English and MFL. Add your own pieces as appropriate.
Excellent students are made, not born. Teachers lead, students learn, students lead. Excellence is an aspiration for us all and its pursuit will benefit every learner facing us in September, not just the high attainers. The excellence gap is a national scandal, so time to get cracking.
1/5 Excellence by design
2/5 Excellence by communication
3/5 Excellence by definition
4/5 Excellence by collaboration