Newsletter 155 - NEEDU Schools that Work II - Enabling Conditions for School Improvement
NEEDU: Schools that Work II Lessons from the Ground
The statement of best practices that follows expresses key study findings about the role of enabling conditions in school improvement. These findings convey practices that are common to high performing schools: The best practices are organised under five sub-themes namely, a capable teaching force, flexibility and autonomy, being an NSC marker, teacher commitment and dedication, and a focused curriculum.
BEST PRACTICE 3.1—A CAPABLE TEACHING FORCE: Schools focus on three things: appointment of properly qualified teachers, recruitment and retaining of good teachers, and creating good conditions for teachers to excel. A well-qualified and motivated teaching force has been seen as one of the most vital assets for educational quality. Indicators on teachers can be categorised in various ways, including:
· Descriptive background characteristics of teachers (formal qualifications, years of experience, language of teaching and learning, and in-service training history);
· Knowledge and skills (general knowledge, content knowledge, and knowledge about pedagogical or didactic strategies);
· Attitudes and morale relative to general working conditions; and
· Attitudes with respect to the work situation at school and learner-teacher ratios.
All schools hold a view, which is supported by empirical evidence, that teacher quality counts and that teacher make a substantial difference in learner achievement. Thus, in their quest to provide learners of different abilities and from different backgrounds with quality education, high performing schools make sure that learner are taught by properly qualified and effective teachers. To achieve this, they focus on three things: recruitment and appointment of most qualified teachers, retaining these teachers once recruited, and creating good conditions for teachers to excel. These are briefly discussed below:
· Recruitment of most qualified teachers: High-performing schools are guided by a conviction that “what teachers know and can do has the most important influence on what learners learn”. Schools are proactive in recruiting teachers. Following are examples how high-performing schools recruit properly qualified teachers as part of the strategy to improve the quality of teaching. They:
ü Target skilled teachers with pedagogical training and qualified teachers with university majors in the subjects they are teaching
ü Target university students enrolled in education faculties who were former learners at the school
· Retaining good teachers: Like other schools in the nation, these schools also grapple with two difficult questions: Where to attract teachers for hard-to-fill fields like Mathematics and Physical Sciences; and how to retain them once recruited, especially in rural areas. Following are examples of the strategies high-performing schools use to retain good teachers
· Creating suitable conditions: Principals in high-performing schools strongly believe that their teachers cannot teach well unless suitable conditions are created. Following are examples of what high-performing schools do to create a healthy school environment
BEST PRACTICE 3.2—FLEXIBILITY AND AUTONOMY: Decision-making is placed closer to the classroom to increase learner achievement. The Principals strongly believe that HODs and teachers know their learners best. For this reason, they feel that “placing the decision making closer to the classroom and holding HODs and teachers accountable for results is the best way to increase learner achievement”
· Give flexibility/autonomy to the HODs in their Department: Driven by a belief that flexibility/autonomy encourages an environment of creative thinking so HODs and teachers can tailor teaching strategies to fit their departments and their learners, each department has flexibility to try practices or actions that would work for them but perhaps not in another department.
· Give flexibility/autonomy to the teachers in their classes: Teachers decide how to teach in class (autonomy) but they are held accountable for learner performance. However, flexibility/autonomy and accountability are treated as two sides of the same coin. School management teams (SMTs) see them as two legs supporting student achievement
GOOD PRACTICE 3.3—BEING AN NSC marker: Doing NSC exam marking provides continuous professional development opportunities
· Allows teachers to see common errors made by candidates in the exam:
You can see the pitfalls of certain questions so you can advise your own learners and other teachers as to what they should pay attention to. As you mark, you are able to identify problematic areas or questions that learners do not understand. During revision, you stress those kinds of questions so that when learners go to the exam, they know how to answer such questions.
· Improves the ways teachers support learners in their development of exam techniques
· Allows teachers to have access to a whole range of previous question papers
· Enables teachers to develop exam style questions and create model answers more easily
· Enables teachers to improve their teaching
· Develops teachers’ understanding of the mark schemes used—having experience of the practical application of the mark scheme to a wide variety of responses
· Strengthens teachers’ subject content knowledge, particularly in aspects which were not as strong
· Enables teachers to recognise those groups of learners who need extra help: They can work separately with those learners to try and solve those problems before they are confronted with the final examination paper
BEST PRACTICE 3.4—TEACHER COMMITMENT AND DEDICATION: Teachers feel accountable for helping learners improve: They know learners are counting on them for their academic success. Teacher commitment and dedication is one of the highest-ranking factors that defines highperforming schools in this study. The teachers hold themselves accountable for helping learners improve. They know learners are counting on them for their academic success. Committed teachers are a key pillar supporting learner achievement. Teachers in high-performing schools show commitment and dedication in different ways including the following:
· Teachers take responsibility for their own performance as well as their learners’ performance, and they take that seriously and personally. To these teachers, it is not just a job: “We know that this [good performance in the NSC examinations] might be our learners’ last opportunity to get out of poverty because of the environment that they live in.” Teachers in these schools accept no excuses, they consistently tackle tough challenges, and have a “can-do” attitude
· Teachers give learners more opportunities to learn within and outside school hours
· Teachers care deeply about their learners
· Teachers’ own children attend school in the same school where they teach
GOOD PRACTICE 3.5—A FOCUSED CURRICULUM: Schools specialise in a few subjects and do not spread themselves too thinly. Many schools in this study offer specific streams because, as one Principal notes: “It does not make sense to offer too many subjects or streams and then struggle to recruit qualified teachers in those subjects."
•BEST PRACTICE 3.1 A CAPABLE TEACHING FORCE: Schools focus on three things: appointment of properly qualified teachers, recruitment and retaining of good teachers, and creating good conditions for teachers to excel
•BEST PRACTICE 3.2 FLEXIBILITY AND AUTONOMY: Decision making is placed closer to the classroom to increase learner achievement
•GOOD PRACTICE 3.3 BEING AN NSC MARKER: Doing NSC exam marking provides continuous professional development opportunities
•BEST PRACTICE 3.4 TEACHER COMMITMENT AND
DEDICATION: Teachers feel accountable for helping learners improve: They know learners are counting on them for their academic success
•GOOD PRACTICE 3.5 A FOCUSED CURRICULUM: Schools specialise in a few subjects and do not spread themselves too thinly