This forms part one of a series of pieces exploring cultural log-jams and structural defects preventing sustainable improvements in learning and learning outcomes in schools.
In my experience, there have been very few schools which do not already have the capacity for sustainable self-improvement within the expertise of their current staff.
That such energy and expertise is not harnessed can only be explained in cultural terms. By culture in this context I mean the drivers of behaviours which all adults within the school subscribe to, formally, or informally.
Culture is a difficult issue to address, as it has many components. There are cultural expectations placed on school staff by a number of origins. Certainly the national expectations expressed as a results driven ethos, and a quality control mechanism driven by Ofsted inspection with have a daily impact on the behaviours of individual adults within the school. These also tend to emphasise short term expedient action over sustainable change.
More subtle is the informal culture, often expressed as the ‘staffroom culture’ which will shape attitudes and behaviours of all, and individual staff. This will determine the scope of actions, opportunities, threats and challenges. This ‘staffroom culture’ has a historical and a personal origin, based on past experiences and the abrasive nature of individuals who have served in the school. This culture can be benign or regressive, depending on experiences and personalities. Generally though, it is a conservative force which limits change because it harks back to a more glorious or simple past, and does not focus on the future. In negative school cultures the place to be feared, rather than embraced for opportunities and chances to reform and improve.
There will be the expectations of parents which modify behaviours. Whereas the school may wish to proceed on the basis of the whole community, parents may have a very individualistic or sectional interest in current practice and the direction of future travel.
I believe, in a secondary school setting, the most difficult aspect of culture to move forward is that contained within the subject department. Whereas the senior leadership want to promote universal and sustainable movements forward in performance and outcomes, this generalistic approach clashes with the sectional interests of subject departments. Subject departments promote an exclusive and particularistic outlook on their members. Whilst the senior leadership want to promote a focus on learning, or assessment or the use of IT in learning, the subject department will be arguing why the general interest does not correspond to their particular subject needs.
If this pen portrait of some of the important drivers of change and inertia in schools chimes with your experience, then you may find my books, with their analysis, case studies and templates for change of interest in re-calibrating your school to face the future positively and improve the life chances of your pupils, and the mental health and satisfaction of your staff.
Beyond them I am also available to support the process of progressive and sustainable change in learning in your school.
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Future Proof Your School can be purchased in any good book shop or online here
David Hughes MA, ADEM, NPQH.