Here’s the latest from guest bloggers Azad Oommen and Sameer Sampat, co-founders of Global School Leaders, who attended the All-In meeting in New York City last week.
This week, The Education Commission released a report on Investing in Knowledge Sharing to Advance SDG 4 (ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all). The report calls for three key elements of knowledge sharing infrastructure in education – global public goods, capacity development and networks. This call to action resonated with our work at Global School Leaders, where we are working on creating effective school leadership in the Global South. We see a tremendous need for our colleagues in the field to network, exchange information and create common tools that will accelerate progress on increasing the effectiveness of school leaders in the education ecosystem.
The findings of this report were particularly pertinent, as we had just participated in what we hope will be a real life example of such an investment – the ALL-IN (Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network) meeting hosted by the Qatar Foundation’s WISE Initiative. ALL-IN is focused on school leadership globally and is designed to be a networking and knowledge hub on this issue.
The meeting in New York, part of the WISE@NY event, was attended by around 25 participants from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Kenya, Morocco, Lebanon, Ghana, India, Qatar, South Africa, UK and the US. This meeting was the third in a series of exploratory conversations – the first was in Doha at WISE 2017, and the second was earlier in 2018 at WISE@Accra.
At GSL, we are an active member of ALL-IN as it serves a critical purpose as a knowledge hub for school leadership globally. During our initial work on school leadership at the India School Leadership Institute, we found it very difficult to access information on best practices, innovations, and evidence of impact for school leadership, particularly related to the Global South. As we invest in the field of school leadership in Asia and Africa, we find many allied organizations have a similar hunger for knowledge and networking.
The discussions at the ALL-IN meeting in NY highlighted four pressing needs in the field of school leadership:
Networking – there is a need for a forum where stakeholders can come together across geographies and function to create a composite picture of initiatives related to school leadership. ALL-IN can provide an opportunity for donors, academic researchers, and school leadership training providers to come together to discuss their interests and visions. Participants in the meeting mentioned consistently that ALL-IN was an opportunity to meet organizations that they did not know existed and with whom they would find value in interacting and collaborating.
Knowledge Hub – as school leadership organizations have developed their programs in countries, there has been little systemic capturing of either their experiences or the tools that they have developed. Hence, many organizations felt that they are recreating tools and programs without the benefit of knowing what others have tried before them. They voiced the need for a knowledge hub that exposes them to resources and knowledge in the field.
Investment in evidence of impact – Outside of a few countries in the Global North, there has been limited systemic analysis of the role of school leaders and organizations are grappling with assessing the impact of their programs on student outcomes. Many participants spoke of the need for robust evidence of impact frameworks that could help them evaluate their own progress but also make the case for more investment in school leadership.
A more diverse vision for school leadership – as organizations discussed the varied contexts of school leadership in their countries, one theme that emerged is that there is a need to include more voices in defining models of school leadership. Many countries are engaged in defining professional qualification frameworks around school leadership and as these crystallize, the field should incorporate these emerging voices.
ALL-IN is an evolving network and we are excited about its potential. It has the opportunity to demonstrate how school leadership – an under-invested lever in education – can grow and mature through strategic investment in knowledge sharing. As Dr. Asmaa Al-Fadala, Director of Research at WISE noted, “Leaders need a better how, not just another why.”
We would be glad to connect with people who are interested in the issue of school leadership and want to contribute to the network. Kudos to the WISE team for their leadership and vision in developing ALL-IN.
Meanwhile the World Bank is urging small schools to merge. And on the returns to investing in education here’s a link to a recent article by education economists George Psacharopoulos & Harry Patrinos.
Philanthropy in education
So, Jack Ma, former English teacher and Chinese business investor, and philanthropist, is retiring. He is the co-founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group. Here’s a recent article about how he will focus on education philanthropy. Here’s an article about philanthropy in the USA. Religion is still the largest charitable cause in America with education ranking second.
Here’s a story about the European Union and Georgia. And as the new school year begins in Croatia: The experimental “School for Life” reform program begins. In France, a new law means that students can no longer use mobile phones in school. Here’s a video of students’ opinions. Your thoughts?
Education in Southeast Asia
Here’s an article on what’s happening in education in the Philippines. And here’s what’s new on the topic of literacy in several countries in Southeast Asia . This article on the Dongria Tribe in eastern India is fascinating. Education does indeed open doors to new opportunities for children but it also pulls them away from their traditional ways of life.
Education around Africa and the Middle East
Interested in why some schools are outliers? Read this blog on positive deviance in action. School leaders in Kenya who are willing to try things out! Meanwhile in Ghana our University of San Diego team is working with Ghanaian colleagues to ensure that caning students is a thing of the past, but look at what’s happening at a charter school in Georgia in the US.
The world of low-fee private schools (a world I’m working in) is controversial. Here’s a recent article from Ghana. The train is out of the station so let’s focus on how we can improve these schools and ensure they offer quality education to all. This is a fascinating topic to follow—the bottom line is the issue of equity. And here is something to watch–The Education Commission (chaired by Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister) and the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment have established a $1 billion Education Outcomes Fund (EOF) for Africa and the Middle East. According to their website: “The Fund aims to help transform educational attainment in the region and achieve SDG 4, by pooling grant funds from official aid donors, foundations, and private philanthropic funders, to deploy into pay-for-success programs, with impact investors providing working capital at risk through development impact bonds (DIBs).” Social impact bonds, pay for success and similar approaches to financing education are hot in the impact investment world. It’s controversial and the union, Educator’s International (EI), has responded. Related to this is the request for input on the Guiding Principles on private actors in education from The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. You can submit feedback since the consultation is open until September 30, 2018.
For some of the latest blogs on education development, school leadership and related topics you might want to follow:
Harry Patrinos @hpatrinos He is a manager at the World Bank’s education sector.
Henry F. DeSio @henrydesio DeSio is the Global Ambassador for Changemakers.
Global Schools Forum: @GSF_talks GSF supports and represents non-state schools and school networks operating in low and middle-income countries.
Global School Leaders: @gschoolleaders GSL incubates, connects and supports organizations that train school leaders to improve the learning of students from underserved communities around the world.
And if you are interested in school leadership development in South Africa, check out: @SchoolLeadersSA
Finally, I’ve always been a big fan of the University Council for Education Administration (UCEA) which is a consortium of higher education institutions supporting school leadership development. @UCEA
I’ve spent many years in higher education as a professor of leadership studies. So much written about leadership is generic to many different professions. If you missed Apollo 13 – it’s all about communication, creative thinking and collaboration.
Diverging (quite) a bit from the topic of education, I’m always fascinated by the food in Ghana.
Finally, here’s a great quote that we use in our school leadership workshops from the… oh so talented… Sir Ken Robinson!
“The real role of leadership in education…is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control – creating a climate of possibility. If you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things that you completely did not anticipate and couldn’t have expected.”
Guest blogger Dr. Louise Van Rhyn describes the Partners for Possibility(PfP) program in South Africa which recently won the prestigious 2018 WISE Award.
The recently published results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study reveal that 78% of 10-year-olds in South Africa cannot read for meaning – in any language. Most fifteen-year-old learners are unable to reach the lowest international benchmark in mathematics. Despite increased government spending, the education system continues to face challenges of quality and effectiveness of learning and teaching at all levels.
South Africa’s post-Apartheid public education system is characterised by stark inequalities. The bimodal schooling system created under Apartheid remains largely unchanged with 20% of the country’s 25,000 government schools providing world-class education, while 80% very poor education outcomes.
Whilst the academic performance of South African students is undeniably affected by their socio-economic circumstances, other critical factors differentiate the country’s successful schools from those that are ‘failing’. Key among these are the degree to which parents and community members engage with and support the school and, crucially, the extent to which the principal has been equipped for the task of leading the school.
There is increasing recognition that the role of the school principal is highly speacialised and that leadership at the school level is the critical factor in turning around an education system that is in crisis.
Career educators are often promoted to the position of principal – and this naturally comes with the expectation that the school will be run in a sustainable and efficient way by the appointed leader. In South Africa however, while school principals are now recognised by the government as critical levers for improving education, there is no compulsory preparation for the role of principal other than teaching experience, and most principals receive no training in leadership or management.
To compound the situation, the contextual reality within which principals are expected to run their schools is often underplayed or completely overlooked. South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world and the majority of principals face formidable leadership challenges which arise from factors including poor school infrastructure, under-qualified and demotivated teachers, and students who are often hungry and ill, do not have proper clothing and lack parental support.
In stark contrast to the experience of school principals, who arguably lead the country’s most important institutions, the leaders in South Africa’s business community have typically been very well-equipped by their various organisations to assume leadership positions and manage change.
A South African solution to a South African challenge
As a South African education activist with over 25 years’ experience as a change practitioner, I realised that the abundant expertise available in the business sector could be tapped to help equip school principals with the skills they need to lead change in their schools and communities. In 2011, I launched the Partners for Possibility (PfP) programme which establishes co-learning, co-action partnerships between principals from under-resourced schools and leaders from the business community. The aim of these partnerships is to support and equip principals with the skills they need to lead change and to mobilise communities to engage with their schools.
The business leaders provide practical hands on support to principals, sharing their knowledge and skills with them as the two leaders tackle challenges together in the school. At the same time business leaders learn from principals about leading in under-resourced contexts and are exposed to the challenges within the education system. Both partners also attend formal leadership training.
Six to ten partnerships are grouped into a leadership circle which is supported by a professional coach-facilitator during a 12-month structured, process of formal and informal learning. The leadership circle forms a community of practice that meets regularly and creates an opportunity for socially constructed knowledge, insight and skills to emerge.
The programme focuses on respectful reciprocity where partners are viewed as equals, each possessing the ability to make an invaluable contribution to the partnership through the sharing of professional and personal experiences. As the partners reach out to parents and community members to engage them in the life of the school, they foster a sense of shared responsibility, active citizenship and community building which strengthens of the fabric of society.
Effecting tangible change
To date, 825 school principals, most of whom had no previous leadership or management training, have joined PfP together with their business leader partners.
In numerous internal and external programme evaluations conducted since 2014, principals have reported becoming more confident and better able to lead and manage change at their schools. This new-found confidence has enabled principals to rally their communities to become actively involved in school life. Positive ripple effects of this include happier and more engaged teachers, who feel supported and appreciated, and a more engaged set of parents who now see the benefit of working in tandem with teachers.
Business partners have become better equipped to confront complexity and ambiguity, to lead beyond authority and influence across boundaries – and most importantly- they have learned to lead with humanity. Business partners have also gained real insight into the challenges faced by under-resourced communities which drive some of the major dysfunction in South African society.
Learners, as primary beneficiaries of education, have benefitted from these enablers of improved education outcomes.
External evaluations by the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation and Quest Research Services found improvements in academic outcomes in the PfP schools that were investigated in detail – even though the principals in these schools had only recently completed the programme. Academic performance in PfP secondary schools are better than national averages, with drop-out rates also lower than the national average.
As a driver of social cohesion in South Africa, PfP exposes participants to communities with whom they would not normally engage. Very few senior business leaders, represented mostly by white men, would ordinarily spend time in the poor communities where black men and women lead most of the country’s under-resourced schools.
As the PfP Theory of Change indicates, the impact of principals’ leadership growth on academic outcomes may take years to become evident. But it is clear that equipping school leaders with the requisite leadership skill set now is essential in realising the vision of an inclusive, quality education for all South Africa’s children in the future.
Global Ed Leadership Distinguished Fellow Ian Martin shares his experiences about counseling in a variety of schools and educational systems…
Around this time last year, I was working with colleagues in Nigeria at the University of Lagos. We were conducting a study on counselor roles and activities within Nigerian schools. After collecting about 300 surveys, we ate catfish, drank beer and watched the sunset. I distinctly remember sitting there and wondering, “How in the world did I get here?” A surfer dude from California, in Nigeria, learning about counseling – How cool is that?
While I was very excited to learn about Nigerian school-based counseling, much of the current scholarly literature on counseling within schools in rooted in the western context. Examples of practice within other international settings usually involves a description of the status of counseling within a specific country or region. Unfortunately, these descriptions often involve some commentary on how far behind the country is in its development when compared to professional markers common within the US (i.e., university training, licensure, professional associations, accrediting bodies). While this is understandable, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the US operating as the gold standard for practice internationally.
First of all, as a former school counselor and current counselor educator in the US, I can tell you that accessing high quality school counseling services within the US system is not a given. Recent studies indicate that school counseling programming is not implemented consistently across the states. This means there are significant contextual differences that effect the practice of counseling from state to state. While the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) has had good success promoting the ASCA National Model (a programmatic model that encourages students’ personal, social, academic and career development), there is no official national curriculum and many states (nearly half) don’t even mandate or require counseling in schools.
Furthermore, one only has to spend a brief moment scanning the daily headlines or watching the nightly news to clearly understand that the US is struggling mightily with many sociocultural issues (e.g., racism, substance abuse, lack of mental health care, inhumane immigration policies, gun violence, access to equitable education, outrageous cost of living). Despite these significant national needs, it saddens me to say that counseling services in schools are largely not seen as a priority. It seems obvious to me that a country where school violence responses include very real plans to better arm teachers, should have its status as a world leader in school-based counseling challenged.
Mountain Brook Schools
While the US may have made advances in the organization and credentialing of the profession of school counseling, I believe we have a lot to learn in terms of designing services or creating arguments for counseling that are realistic and/or related to our true national needs. Over the years I have had the privilege of traveling to many different countries and witnessing counseling occurring in a wide variety of schools and educational systems. In many instances I was humbled and amazed by the level of practice or the highly contextualized ways practitioners solved issues within educational systems. This is where it became clear that we need to engage in more intentional international comparative study.
It is amazing to see this type of energy and enthusiasm for international school-based counseling in such a short period of time. While comparative studies in this area are still in their infancy, it represents a great opportunity to create a counter-narrative and enliven the conversation with ideas outside of the US context. Opportunities to learn from each other are becoming more authentic and action oriented. Just a couple of years ago I never would have thought it possible to collaborate on a survey with colleagues from 16 different countries. But here we are and I am sure I’m not the only one appreciating the ride and wondering, “How in the world did we get here?”
Context Matters: Professor Bruce Barnett describes some key findings from the High-Need Schools research projects…
Schools around the world serve large numbers of students at risk of educational failure or in need of special assistance and support. Many of these students live in poverty, are homeless, reside in foster care, have physical and learning disabilities, and are second language learners. As a result of these conditions, many students drop out of school, are employed in low-paying jobs, and become dependent on public assistance. These conditions also affect children’s sense of hope. Although American adolescents and undergraduate students tend to be more hopeful than are their counterparts in other countries (Lester, 2015), about 30% of American adolescents experience a sense of hopelessness, with much higher rates among racial and ethnic minority groups (Child Trends, 2012).
Given the increasing numbers of schools serving high-need students and communities, the International School Leadership Development Network (ISLDN) was developed as a joint initiative of the British Educational Leadership, Management, and Administration Society (BELMAS) and the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). Two areas of focus have emerged: (1) leadership for social justice and (2) leadership in high-need schools. (For more background about the ISLDN, see https://isldn.weebly.com).
High-Need Schools Project Overview
One of the major purposes of the ISLDN is to examine what leaders in high-need schools are doing to overcome many of the educational, social, and economic challenges students and families are encountering. I, along with Jami Berry (University of Georgia), Ian Potter (Bayhouse School, United Kingdom), Pam Angelle (University of Tennessee), and Charles Slater (California State University, Long Beach), have been co-directing these research projects.
The High-Need Schools (HNS) project consists of researchers who are conducting case studies of high-need school leadership across the globe. The project focuses on schools and communities with large numbers of families with incomes below the poverty line, teachers who are not teaching in the content area in which they were trained to teach, teacher and leader turnover, non-native language speakers, and students from indigenous groups.
The project has sought to identify school principals working in a number of different cultural contexts to addresses the following research questions:
What fosters student learning in high-need schools?
How do principals and other school leaders enhance individual and organizational performance in high-need schools?
How do internal and external school contexts impact individual and organizational performance in high-need schools?
A recent special issue of International Studies in Educational Administration (Gurr & Drysdale, 2018) summarizes how principals in high-need schools in several countries (Australia, Belize, Mexico, New Zealand, United States) deal with the internal and external contextual factors influencing student and teacher performance. These six studies examine the relationship between leadership and context, an important area of study since this interplay can determine success and failure (Clarke & O’Donoghue, 2016). Successful leaders understand the context in which they work and can navigate the various levels of context to forge successful outcomes, while other leaders can be constrained or derailed by the context.
One of the studies of a high-need school in the USA identifies the critical contextual challenges principals experience, including national policy changes affecting privatization and reduced resources for public schools, unequitable allocation of support in high-poverty areas, high principal turnover, and inadequate leadership preparation. The school leader addressed these challenges by developing a positive culture of learning through use of quality data, increased community engagement, improved climate and higher teacher quality.
A second study examines the leadership of three underperforming schools in Australia. The authors identify six layers of context: institutional, community, socio-cultural, economic, political, and school improvement. The leaders of each of the schools worked within these six contextual dimensions to improve school performance despite the fact that two schools were in educationally high-advantaged contexts, but were defined as high-need schools.
The third study explores how four leaders in an urban elementary school in a high-need urban context in South Texas have successfully improved and sustained student performance over 25 years. The findings reveal how each principal sought to understand and work within the community, school, and district context to develop interventions that improved and sustained success. Collectively, the strategies adopted by each principal were shown to build on previous success.
Leadership within an early childhood setting in a challenging social economic context in New Zealand constitutes the fourth study. The research emphasizes how these principals developed strong, nurturing relationships with parents and the community to foster a positive environment that enhanced students’ life chances.
The fifth study explores school leaders’ roles in developing a STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Math) curriculum for students in a secondary school in Belize (Central America). Despite limited resources, the two school leaders collaborated with the community to maximize ways for the STEM program to provide opportunities for students to work practically within the industry to develop career options in tourism.
The final study explores principal leadership practices within three Mexican elementary schools in high-need environments. Using a multi-perspective case study approach, the authors outline the external and internal contextual challenges principals had to navigate. These principals promoted order and discipline, clarified roles and rules, managed external support, and developed students’ self-esteem and sense of belonging.
These cases reveal school leaders’ contextual acuity by adapting their interventions or practices to suit their unique circumstances. In Belize, the two principals connected the curriculum with current interest in STEM education and the local industries that were likely to be sources of employment for students. In New Zealand, the three early childhood leaders not only focused on developing teachers, but also understood the importance of developing parents’ skills, particularly in helping them raise their children. In Australia, one of the principals in a school that was about to be closed decided to develop a student-focused learning environment by searching for “next practice” ideas, and assembling them into a coherent instructional program. The other two principals led “best practice” environments where the schools utilized ideas that were known to be effective approaches to learning. In the South Texas school with four principals over 25 years, each principal adapted to their context and built on the foundations laid by previous principals, a powerful story of how thoughtful leaders were able to read their immediate and past school contexts to continue nurturing school success.
What also emerges from these studies of contextual leadership in high-need schools is how common views of leadership describe the core practices of these principals: setting direction, developing people, redesigning the organization, and improving teaching and learning (Day & Leithwood, 2007). The ECE leaders in New Zealand set direction, developed people, and redesigned the organization as well as created positive school/family relationships. The four principals in South Texas set a clear direction for student improvement, supported teachers to improve, altered school conditions, improved teaching and learning processes, and fostered significant parent and community engagement. At the other high-need USA school, significant improvement in staff retention, curriculum, student behavior and attendance, parent involvement, and student learning outcomes resulted from the principal establishing a collaborative school vision, creating a culture of learning, and implementing incremental change in discipline, attendance, training, and curriculum implementation.
Research also demonstrates several types of organizational leaders who are sensitive to their contexts: (1) entrepreneurs are ahead of their time, not constrained by their environment, and able to overcome almost impossible barriers to develop and implement new ideas, (2) managers are skilled at understanding and exploiting their context and possess a deep understanding of how the context can shape and grow their organizations, and (3) leaders confront change and see potential in their organizations that others fail to see. In sum, “Entrepreneurs create new businesses, managers grow and optimize them, and leaders transform them at critical inflection points” (Mayo & Nohria, 2005, p. 48). Evidence of these patterns and behaviors emerge from our studies of high-need school leaders. For instance, the Australian case demonstrates that one of the principals employed entrepreneurial leadership by creating new processes, structures, and practices. In addition, the two leaders from Belize exemplified leadership and entrepreneurship by introducing an innovative STEM program for students in response to the challenges of a high-needs environment. Furthermore, the New Zealand early childhood principals showed leadership by building social capital through partnering with parents in the community. Despite the changing context at different levels at the national, state, district and community levels, the principal in the Texas case study took advantage of the educational initiatives offered at the state level to introduce a series of strategies to build a learning culture and improve teacher quality. Finally, the Mexican principals developed sound managerial strategies for improving student discipline and establishing clear school rules and roles.
Finally, several lessons about leadership and context emerge from these cases. First, leaders in high-need contexts face seemingly insurmountable obstacles; however, rather than being constrained by these contexts, they are optimistic about a better future for their students and communities. Second, by being contextually sensitive and responding with strategic interventions, they demonstrate the competence and skills to successfully manage situations and make good decisions. Third, they are adaptable to changing systemic, school, and community contexts. Together, these factors reflect school leaders’ contextual acuity.
Aspiring and practicing school leaders in high-need schools need opportunities to develop their contextual acuity. On one hand, they can shadow and interview school leaders who are adroit at reading and responding to their contexts. These observations and conversations not only can reveal how leaders are reading contextual clues, but also can uncover their problem-solving strategies. On the other hand, collaborative work groups of school leaders can be established to allow them to compare and contrast different contextual factors affecting their schools. These experiences can sensitize school leaders to consider various options when dealing with these factors to optimize learning for students, teachers, and parents.
Child Trends (2012). Adolescents who felt sad or hopeless: Indicators on children and youth. Bethesda, MD: Author.
Clarke, S., & O’Donoghue (Eds.) (2016). School leadership in diverse contexts. New York, NY: Routledge.
Day, C., & Leithwood, K. (Eds.) (2007). Successful school leadership in times of change. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer-Kluwer.
Gurr, D., & Drysdale, L. (2018). Leading high-need schools: Findings from the International School Leadership Development Network. International Studies in Educational Administration, 46(1), 147-156.
Lester, D. (2015). Hopelessness in adolescents. Journal of Affective Disorders, 173, 221-225.
Mayo, T., & Nohria, N. (2005). Zeitgeist leadership. Harvard Business Review, 83(10), 45-60.
For those of you not familiar with the way in which the UK parliament works, it has standing committees – drawn from all parties – which look at various aspects of state provision and report accordingly. Typically, these Select Committees can summon witnesses and ask for submissions from interested parties on the chosen topic. As such these reports tend to avoid political bias and are usually very robust pieces of research.
This parliamentary report looked at the ways in which alternative provision was seemingly being abused by a sharp increase in the number or permanent exclusions from mainstream schools in England. The purpose of alternative provision is to meet the needs of a wide-cross section of the pupil population, who will often arrive with complex needs and vulnerabilities and not all of whom have been excluded. In this case, the committee report appears to have been triggered by significant evidence and concerns about the over-exclusion of pupils, many of whom end up in alternative provision.
Bastions of inclusion
“Mainstream schools should be bastions of inclusion”, concluded the committee and “intentionally or not, this is not true of all mainstream schools”. The BBC analysis of the report showed pupils being excluded at the rate of 40 per day, however, with the bulk of those coming from secondary schools (83%) and the greatest proportion coming after Year 9 (i.e. during the final stage of their secondary education).
Exclusions can be:
Permanent, where a pupil is unable to stay at their current school;
Temporary, where a pupil is not allowed to attend school for a certain number of days;
Internal, where a pupil is placed in isolation and segregated from the rest of the school
Just as I reported in my previous blog there has also been an alarming increase in ‘hidden’ exclusions ranging from those whose parents have been encouraged to take their child out of school voluntarily to children being separated from their peer group and ‘taught’ in isolation. Sadly, the committee also received evidence of schools deliberately failing to identify children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), seemingly for financial reasons.
We also heard that schools are justifying permanent exclusions of pupils with SEND, by claiming that they will get the support that they need in alternative provision, and exclusion will speed up the assessment process.34 This then leads to pupils with SEND being left for long periods of time in alternative provision while the assessment takes place, which does not mean that a child’s needs are being met. (2018 Select Committee Report: p 10)
Finally, greater awareness of pupil’s mental health and well-being was resulting, it seems, in more children being identified as needing support which mainstream schools and wider support services are not able to provide. Nevertheless, children with such difficulties were often still being excluded.
Reasons for permanent exclusions
What we are witnessing in England, therefore, is a dramatic increase over the last three years of permanent exclusions with a rise of some 40% being recorded. Persistent disruptive behaviour was by far the most common reason for permanent exclusions with the effect being felt most by disadvantaged groups, but those being referred to alternative provision also include children identified as SEND, those with mental health issues and those with undiagnosed difficulties.
The analysis of exclusions seems to reflect a growing social divide with very poorest pupils, those on free school meals, being four times more likely to receive permanent exclusions than other pupils with the figures also showing that black Caribbean pupils have an exclusion rate three times higher than the school population as a whole. Meanwhile children with special educational needs support are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than pupils with no SEND and boys are three times more likely to be permanently excluded than girls.
Partly the reason for rising exclusions, suggested the Select Committee report, was a shortage of funding for schools which limited their ability to be responsive to need, but there has also been an increase in zero-tolerance behaviour policies.
The evidence we have seen suggests that the rise in so called ‘zero-tolerance’ behaviour policies is creating school environments where pupils are punished and ultimately excluded for incidents that could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment. (Ibid, p 11)
The report also provided evidence (as I did in my previous blog) that government’s strong focus on school standards has led to:
… school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Ibid, p 14)
This latter point is significantly supported by evidence from children who highlight exam stress and subject choice, along with negative impacts of social media, as impacting on their mental health and well-being.
The press for academic attainment
The committee report concludes that the press for academic attainment has probably placed stress on schools to demonstrate sustained and enhanced levels of performance on an ever-narrowing curriculum:
An unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards has led to school environments and practices that have resulted in disadvantaged children being disproportionately excluded, which includes a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital. There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging. (Ibid, p 14)
It is too early to say whether the evidence will lead to change in practice. What we do know is that the process of ‘off-rolling’ I described in my previous blog is illegal. The problem, however, is that “the exclusions process is weighted in favour of schools and often leaves parents and pupils navigating an adversarial system that should be supporting them” (Ibid, p 40).
The report concludes with numerous recommendations to government for change, including establishing a Bill of Rights for pupils facing exclusions. My best guess? This will disappear in terms of government priority because of the forthcoming Brexit and disadvantaged and vulnerable children will continue to be denied access to high quality provision in mainstream schools. I will be delighted if I am wrong.
Dr. Corinne Brion from the University of Dayton sends a letter about her recent experience working with school leaders in Burkina Faso, West Africa.
Neowongo! (Welcome in Mooré, one of the 59 dialects spoken in Burkina Faso, West Africa).
Tonight, I’m leaving Burkina Faso. I’m at Ouagadougou’s international airport reflecting on my experiences in the land of the ‘Incorruptible People.’ Burkina Faso is the size of Colorado and has approximately 19 million inhabitants. It’s a former French colony and like many countries in Africa gained its independence in 1960. Burkina Faso ranks 183 out of 188 on the Human Development index (which measures the capability of people to live long happy healthy lives, and to have access to education).
To better understand the educational needs of Burkina Faso, it’s important to take into consideration the following data. Burkina Faso’s literacy rate—defined as people over 15 years old who can read and write—is 36% (CIA, 2016) and 3.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on education. Burkina Faso uses the French education model for all levels of education, unless the school is part of an international system. There are six levels of the elementary system exclusive of kindergarten (la maternelle). Kindergarten classes exist for children age three to six but they are mainly located in large cities and are under-developed.
The Education System in Burkina Faso (CIA, 2016)
Language of Instruction
6 years of Primary
(CP1,CP2, CE1, CE2, CM1, CM2)
4 years of Junior
(sixième, cinquième, quatrième and troisième)
3 years of Senior
(Seconde, Premiere, Terminale)
Literacy Rate in %
(15-24 years old).
I’ve been fortunate to work part-time in Burkina Faso for the past 5 years. Our task here has been to build the capacity of school leaders. School administrators in Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs) rarely have any formal training and in most instances they are not educators. Because a training is as good as its material and trainers, a team from the University of San Diego developed contextualized research-based educational leadership materials in which adult learning theories are embedded; we train local school leaders, train local trainers through a Train the Trainers model (TOT) and conduct research (see our earlier posts: A Model for Leadership Training and the Missing Link on Learning Transfer.
This week, I was asked to oversee a three-day leadership training that focused on the Conditions for Learning (Table 2 outlines the topics covered during this leadership training). In order to enhance the
transfer of knowledge post training, we conduct all trainings using an active learning approach. Trainees participate in a case study, work in groups and spend time reflecting about their schools.
At the end of each day, participants also complete a School Development Plan or “Plan d’Action.”
The co-facilitators for the training were two Burkinabe colleagues who are still learning the materials and were working alongside a Ghanaian colleague and trainer. To find quality facilitators we work with local universities and schools. Our local-co-facilitators are carefully selected and are educators by training. Most of them are university professors in an educational leadership department. Each training is led by 2 facilitators who take turns between facilitating and being the lead and co-facilitating. We have developed Pedagogical Notes to outline the roles of the facilitator and co-facilitator. When potential facilitators first work with us, they come to the training and observe the entire training session. They also participate in daily debriefing meetings. If they remain interested in the work and content of the materials, they become co-facilitators the next time the training is offered and teach about 25% of the content. They are teamed up with an experience facilitator who can offer their support and feedback. Again, at the end of each day, there is a debriefing session that provides time for reflection. The second time a facilitator-in-training teaches, s/he will facilitate for approximately 50 % of the time. The third time a person teaches about 75% of the content and after that they become full-fledged facilitators. In addition to the daily debriefing and feedback sessions, the lead facilitator writes a feedback letter at the end of the training for his/her co-facilitator. To help with the letters and the language one should use in order to give constructive feedback, we developed a TOT guide containing sample letters, language that might be used, position descriptions as well as the selection process and the roles of both facilitators, co-facilitators and observers.
The Three Modules of the School Leadership Training: The Conditions for Learning
Day 1: Module 1:
Title: Building a Culture of Learning
· Writing a mission statement.
· Creating an invitational school culture.
· Parents and families as partners.
Day 2 morning: Module 2a:
Title: Health and Wellness
· Clean water.
· Disease prevention.
· Working with the community.
Day 2 afternoon: Module 2b:
Title: Facilities and Safety
· School construction: indoors and outside.
· Acoustics and ventilation.
· Kitchen facilities
· School safety
Day 3: Module 3:
Title: Teacher Recruitment, Induction and Professional Development
· Values and dispositions of quality teachers.
· Recruiting and hiring quality teachers.
· Teacher retention and development.
· Supporting teachers and staff.
This evening after three intense days of training, I feel content. Participants were excited about the content of the modules, they acquired practical ideas and tools to help them with their schools and they networked with each other. Our local trainers are progressing in their learning and I had the chance to meet some leaders who had attended the training three years ago. They told me that they continue to transfer the content of the modules to their schools. That is music to my ears!
The other day my husband stated in an exasperated voice: “So, you got an advanced degree and you work in schools in sub-Saharan Africa and South America yet all you talk about are toilets. Isn’t that a waste of your education? Shouldn’t you be spending your time figuring out how to improve student achievement?”
Well, it jolted me for a few seconds and then I responded—but that’s what I am doing! It’s taken me years to understand that, yes—high quality teaching and strong school leadership will lead to improved student learning outcomes—but the school’s physical learning environment—the conditions for learning come first. Sanitation and nutrition are the foundation for learning and that’s why I have taken hundreds of photos of bathrooms and kitchens in schools around the world– so I can focus on student learning. Maybe my understanding of the importance of good sanitation and healthy children –washrooms and kitchens– is a key reason I did get degrees in education.
Over the last few years of working in mostly low-fee private schools in low and middle-income nations, I’ve come to understand that you can’t have a school with students successfully learning, without having a school with clean toilets. Of course, the corollary is not necessarily true, clean toilets do not equal improved learning. But, I am sure that each child and adult in a school having access to toilets that are clean, and in sufficient number for enrollment, is a basic condition for improving student learning. And by clean, at a minimum I mean– they don’t smell, there isn’t exposed dirty paper and there are no flies.
According to UNICEF – In 60 countries in the developing world, more than half of primary schools have no adequate water facilities and nearly two thirds lack adequate sanitation. Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and lack of hygiene not only affect the health, safety, and quality of life of children; they also claim the lives of an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five who die each year from diarrhea.
The research is clear. Schools with better sanitation facilities report higher attendance and overall better health for children. We know that providing better water, sanitation and hygiene services in schools reduces hygiene-related diseases and can help curb absenteeism due to missing school because of diarrhea. We also know that girls are reluctant to continue their schooling when toilets and washing facilities are either unavailable or are not private, safe, and clean.
According to the United Nations and UNICEF, one in five girls of primary-school age are not in school, compared to one in six boys. One factor accounting for this difference is the lack of sanitation facilities for girls reaching puberty. The installation of toilets and latrines may enable school children, especially menstruating girls, to further their education by remaining in school (see our March 2018 blog). If girls at puberty do not feel safe by having access to a private toilet area and if we do not provide access for students with disabilities, then absenteeism increases.
I’ve visited many schools that are oases for children. In far too many cases schools
are surrounded by extreme poverty, thus all types of services such as good roads, adequate drainage, easily available clean
drinking water, etc. are missing. Schools and the adults working in them are role models for youth and sanitation is key because poor sanitary conditions can lead to disease and minimal learning.
So, what can school leaders do to ensure that children and adults in schools are learning and teaching in sanitary conditions?
Here are some of the strategies we discussed with school leaders and trainers during a recent workshop:
Make the School Leadership Team (Head Teachers, Directors, Coordinators, Proprietors, and others) aware of the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene in schools. They have an important role to play through their work with teachers and other staff, schoolchildren, and families. Provide guidance and support so that they can promote the development and maintenance of a healthy school environment.
Find out if your country has school facility standards (E.g., Ghana, Peru, and Rwanda have guidelines while Burkina Faso and Liberia do not.). Usually the standards are posted on the Ministry of Education’s website or ask your local district supervisor. If standards do not exist here is a great resource: Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Standards for Schools in Low-cost Settings http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/wash_standards_school.pdf
Create a School Improvement Plan that includes setting targets for water, sanitation and hygiene. If you can’t make all the changes immediately, prioritize the improvements and phase them in so that the most urgent problems are targeted immediately, and other changes can subsequently be phased in.
Provide sanitation and hygiene training and supervision to all adults. Staff training is crucial and the goal is a healthy school environment. Since teachers and other staff are role models for students, be sure to give these topics a central place in in-service teacher training.
Develop and enforce school sanitation rules and procedures. Once the washrooms and toilets are ready for use create a maintenance plan and be sure to regularly monitor the facilities. Assign someone (or a group) to be responsible for daily cleaning; include who is responsible when the sink or toilet are not working or if there are problems with the water.
Support the provision of consumables, such as soap.
Encourage parents to support these efforts. Work with the Parent-Teacher Association and provide parent education programs on hygiene, nutrition and sanitation.
Partner with community groups or NGOs to build water and toilet facilities for the students and the surrounding community to use.
Every child—and teacher— has a right to a school with clean water and sanitary toilets!
Once the basic conditions for learning are ensured, then we can focus on why we are at school—to optimize learning.