What makes successful schools successful?

The government commissioned the NFER to research good practice in raising attainment of disadvantaged students. They specifically looked at features of schools that successfully narrowed the gap and compared them to schools that weren't doing as well. 

It is a fascinating report but like it's title, it is long and not sexy. It is tough to find time read such reports so we have gathered the highlights to make life a little bit easier. 

 

What makes successful schools successful?

This is the question on everyone's lips. In a nutshell they place an emphasis on: 

  1. Teaching and learning strategies including emotional/social support. 
  2. Straightforward assessment for learning systems. 
  3. Clear feedback for pupils. 
  4. Improving pupils' ability to learn through metacognitive strategies

 

What is the silver bullet to raising attainment?

There is no one singular approach identified as raising attainment. This is important, they repeat that a lot. In fact, the most successful schools had on average, 18 different strategies in place to support disadvantaged pupils. 

The are four main groups of strategies used by schools to raise attainment. The analysis of relationships between these factors identified one statistically significant relationship; more successful schools were more likely to use Group 4 - metacognitive strategies. 

This is supported by the Schools' Week Alternative GCSE League Table which shows the best performing schools in the country for FSM pupils. We work with 4 out of the top 10 schools with our Pupil Premium Project.  

 

What can my school do next?

What is clear from the study, is the effectiveness of such strategies relies on them being embedded into a whole - school ethos of aspiration and attainment. 

There are seven building blocks for success:

Building Blocks for Success

What is the improvement journey?

I found the below visualisation of the school's pathway to success really helpful. 

Timescale 3 - 5 years

Timescale 3 - 5 years

Conclusion

There is no simple or one size fits all solution to closing the gap. Instead, a number of measures are required including setting a culture of high expectations and looking at evidence based strategies, such as metacognition. It must be tailored to each school's circumstances and above all, the students themselves. 

For more information about our partnerships focusing on metacognition, self - regulation and resilience, and the whole child please click here. 

How can we stop students procrastinating and start working?

Procrastination. We have all been culprits of this from time to time. I have certainly been guilty of putting off cleaning out the loft, until suddenly it became the most important job in the world when I had to write an important bid with a tight deadline!

I joke as if procrastination is trivial, but when a student is perpetually procrastinating to the point of self – sabotage it is a serious matter. So why do they/we do it? 

Dr Joseph Ferrari identifies three basic types of procrastinators:

  1. Thrill seekers – those who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  2. Avoiders – those who may be avoiding the fear of failure, or even the fear of success. In either case, they are concerned more about what others think of them and would rather have people think they lack effort than ability.
  3. Decisional procrastinators- those who simply cannot make a decision! 

This can be born out of various reasons from die - hard family habits to an act of rebellion. Nevertheless, all are avoiding an act that may being about some emotional discomfort about making meaningful changes to our lives. 

For me, it was the potential of life - altering funding resulting in success or failure. For our students, it is the potential to rise or fall in their exams and what this could potentially mean for their future. 

By electing to put off today what can be done tomorrow we are effectively selling ourselves short. How can we as teachers, help students to stop procrastinating and start working? 

Here are our 6 strategies to help end procrastination and motivate students to get cracking!

1. Start With The End Point

A great goal - setting exercise for students is to draw an archery target board. In the bull's eye students write their ultimate goal and a deadline. For example, in 2022 I want to be a qualified hairdresser.  In the outer rings, students write the steps that will help them reach their end point.

This will help them see the bigger picture of schools and exams whilst breaking down their dream into a tangible target. 

2. Challenge Unhelpful Assumptions

When procrastinating we justify our behavior to make ourselves feel better. For example…

Challenging unhelpful assumptions table

The best way to challenge these unhelpful conclusions is to see if they are really valid. Are they based on evidence or fact, or are they assumptions?

Work students through their assumptions and encourage them to create new conclusions like this one… 

Source Centre of Clinical Interventions (CCI) 

Source Centre of Clinical Interventions (CCI) 

3. Swap Critical Self - Talk with Motivational Self - Talk

The cycle of procrastination can be a toxic, vicious cycle. We lie to ourselves to make us feel better, and then when we become overwhelmed with stress we beat ourselves up for wasting time.  Work with students to find their common self – criticisms and how they can change this into something positive, kind and motivational. Here’s an example;

Critical vs Motivational Self Talk

Notice how the motivational talk separates behavior of procrastinating from their personal qualities. It also focuses on what can be achieved going forward, rather than dwelling on what hasn’t been done. 

4.  Prioritise

Writing a ‘to do’ list is hugely therapeutic but the next step many miss is prioritizing each goal, from 1 – 10 from what is most urgent and important. This means students start on what is critical, rather than what they feel like doing instead! 

5. Build Accountability

Partner with colleagues, parents and carers to create a‘Personal Board of Advisors’ to keep students focused and on track. This shouldn’t be a nag feast (remember procrastination can be an act of rebellion) but a supportive board that can listen, support, and encourage when the going gets tough. 

6. Reward Progress

In change psychology rewarding short – term wins are paramount to changing patterns and behaviours. If students see progress quickly then they will be motivated to continue even more vigorously than before! Set up a reward system to celebrate the small successes. This can be as simple as saying, “I’m proud of you,” to lunch with the Headteacher as recognition, or a school outing. 


Changing behaviour and habits will take time, practice, persistence and patience. Expect good days, bad days and some setbacks but don’t stop trying it will be worth it on result day!

To give students a massive motivational push find out more about our workshops here. 

 

25 Things We Have Learnt Over 25 Years of Working With Schools

We are celebrating 25 years of working with and supporting schools. From humble beginnings to a proud, family - run, international organisation, here are 25 things we have learnt!  

1. Education is fluid, an ever changing and exciting industry. It is certainly never boring.

2. 25 years on our learning techniques are still vital.

3. No matter how many times the curriculum changes students will always need to know how to learn, how to revise, and how to prepare for exams.

4. Kids imaginations are way better than ours. The things they can create never cease to amaze!

5. Our work has a life – long impact that should never be underestimated.

6. Parents are partners too. Working with parents enlightens everything.

7. Teachers are the busiest, most dedicated people we know. We know because of the emails sent at 1am, during holidays, and early morning phone calls.

8. Every cloud really does have a silver lining.

9. Students listen to external speakers more than they do teachers, even though we may be saying exactly the same thing. We are really sorry about that.

10. The team is everything. Surround yourself with positive, passionate people only.

11. The primary to secondary schools transition is a pivotal moment in a child’s life. Treat with care.

12. A holistic approach is best. Always. Every child can achieve.

13. Developing a whole – school approach was the best thing we ever did.

14. Embrace technology. PowerPoint is better than OHPs!

15. Celebrate diversity – having a team with a vast skill set means we are adaptable, flexible and powerful.

16. Learning can be fun, creative, and imaginative.

17. Resilience is vital not just for school but life too. We have had to roll with the punches and batten down the hatches. Turns out we are really good at it and loved learning from it. It has shaped who we are today. 

18. Long-term partnerships supported by our online platform, One Hub, are the way to change cultures and inspire a love of learning.

19. Each school is wonderfully unique.

20. Teachers have their own language. We are fluent in it.

21. Combining research and the very best of the teaching profession is a game changer.

22. Having a culture of high expectations brings out the best in everyone.

23. Former pupils don’t forget you, and you don’t forget them.

24. Nothing will ever beat that ‘light bulb’ moment when a student finally gets it.

25. You really do get older and wiser.