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It's time for flipping change!

The evidence had been mounting for some time before lockdown. The model of school improvement, linked to a so-called standards agenda, that has dominated educational leadership for the last 25 years or so is reaching the end of its useful life. It has achieved  an important degree of success but also left many unresolved problems. It has left leaders and teachers working increasingly hard to secure very small amounts of progress. This is ineffective at so many levels.

We set out the evidence for this view at the start of our book ‘Flipping Schools! - why it’s time to turn your school and community inside out’, published by John Catt in January 2020. It was written before Covid-19 had appeared, and we never imagined that, within a month or so of publication, schools would literally be turned inside out. Lockdown has however brought us to a point of unrivalled opportunity to think differently and build back better. 

At the core of our argument was the need to move from a school-centric view of learning to a learner-centre, community-focussed mindset, to shift from the seeing the school as primarily an organisation to fundamentally a community. 

One of the most important reasons why change is needed lies in the way much current school improvement thinking does not take sufficient account of the influence of genetic and personal factors and social and economic context on educational achievement. Schools alone are able to influence some 20-30% of the factors that affect educational achievement. There is only so much they can do alone and, through so much hard work and effort from the profession, we are close to reaching that point. The step-change now needed is to give greater recognition to the contribution of a school to building social capital, within and around itself. And that involves revisiting and reimagining the why, what, how and where of learning.

Based on both research evidence and the practice of current school leaders, we identified four building blocks for the change now needed. The new outward-facing school needs:
  • An unrelenting focus on the quality of relationships, on becoming a model of community itself –  a place of trust, mutual respect, and belonging.
  • A strong base of value and values, in which the curriculum is central but tailored to a much greater extent to each learner.
  • A commitment to seeking anew the active and ongoing engagement of all stakeholders.
  • A fresh understanding of the role of a school as a focal hub of support for learning and wellbeing more widely.

It is the interaction of these elements that generates the social and cultural capital now vital to developing a much fairer education system.

The experience of lockdown has provided clear evidence of all of these in action to a greater or lesser degree in significant numbers of schools. If we are to learn from this and build back better, we would highlight nine implications that school leaders need to work on in the unique context of their school community as they return. They must:
  • Focus absolutely on the quality of relationships at every level.
  • Work with all stakeholders to develop genuinely shared values.
  • Maintain ongoing dialogue with them and learn to listen well.
  • Get the curriculum right for each individual.
  • Engage with all families as equal partners.
  • Strengthen lateral connections across agencies and partners concerned with families, children and young people
  • Re-imagine each school as if it was a village.
  • Remodel our approach to leadership development for all so as to empower each member of staff to do the right thing for this learner at this moment, whatever it takes.
  • Rethink our approach to accountability, building a shared framework with all our stakeholders.