Distinguished Fellow, Professor Maya Kalyanpur further explores the topic of inclusive education in India in a low-fee private school.
Primary schoolteachers in a low-fee paying, private English medium school in a low-income neighborhood in Mumbai, India, were interviewed on their perspectives on inclusive education. The school was established in response to the liberalization of economic policies in India in the early 1990s that sought to provide alternatives to the existing government-run public education system, which had proven unable to meet the demand for schooling for all. English medium private schools catered primarily to affluent families, whose children then benefitted from access to the colonial legacy of an English-based higher education system. By charging low fees and offering instruction in English, the school attracted parents from the neighborhood who wanted their children to learn English, recognizing it as a passport to success, but could not afford a more expensive private school. All the children spoke a language other than English at home and were being introduced to both conversational and academic English, for the first time in school. The study situates itself within the current debate on low fee-paying schools. Some scholars assert that the government being unable to meet the demand for quality education, private schools are better than nothing at all (e.g., Tooley, 2009) while others have argued that private schools exploit low-income parents’ aspirations for their child to access top tier higher education by offering poor quality education (e.g., Nambissan, 2012; Sarangapani & Winch, 2010).
Based on ethnographic interviews and classroom observations conducted over a four-month period as well as an analysis of policy documents, this study focused on what inclusive education meant to six teachers within the context of the national “no fail” policy which requires that students be promoted regardless of their academic performance until the eighth grade. Three themes emerged: (a) despite an awareness of the benefits of child-centered learning, teachers focused on teacher-led instruction, with a strong emphasis on rote memorization; (b) their limited pre-service training not having provided them with the strategies to respond to the needs of those who struggled to learn, teachers engaged minimally with these students and held largely negative views of them and their home backgrounds; and (c) in a highly competitive context and a strongly hierarchical system where the teacher has considerable authority over parents, teachers are not accountable for ensuring that students learn.
With a minimum of 60 students in their classes, the teachers struggled to ensure that students acquired the academic language while meeting the curriculum standards that would enable their students eventually to pass the state-mandated school completion exam in Standard Ten exam to enter pre-university. While their own middle-class backgrounds had enabled them to go to middle tier private schools where they had learned English, they too rarely spoke the language at home. Classroom observations corroborated their efforts to teach in a language that was unfamiliar to the students and equally cumbersome for the teachers. In the end, they reconciled themselves to teaching to the top two to five percent of the class. Instruction was primarily teacher-led. The standard format for lessons was an opening introduction to the lesson, which mostly consisted of the teacher reading from the textbook and offering translations or clarifications as needed. The teacher then recorded the main points of the lesson on the board and for the rest of the class period the students copied these notes from the board into their notebooks. Students who were able to do so within the remaining time shared their notes with those who were not. Although the teachers mentioned having received training on using child-centered instruction and had some play materials available to facilitate this, these materials or strategies were rarely used. During initial observations, teachers did pull them out to show the researcher and even some in one or two lessons, but over time, they fell back on their habit of teacher-led instruction. Informal assessments of the students by the researcher found that most of the students had memorized the notes from each lesson with very little understanding of their meaning and were able to apply this learning to similarly worded or duplicative questions for the school’s month-end examinations.
All the participants held fairly negative views of the struggling students and would often make reference to their family background in terms of their parents being uneducated. Many of these students came from particularly low socio-economic backgrounds and received state-supplied free uniforms and some fee subsidies to attend school. The students were either bunched together at the back of the class or made to sit next to an academically successful student who was expected to share their notes with them. Again, during initial observations, teachers did check on these struggling students’ performance in class, but over time, they engaged minimally with them. According to the teachers, in every class, there were inevitably five to six students who would be at the bottom of the class, and who would have been held back if the “no fail” policy were not in place. They were ambivalent about the policy: they acknowledged its disadvantage- that students would keep getting pushed up the grades without learning the curriculum and would possibly drop out at the eighth grade, but also identified its advantage in that the students would not be their concern after this school year was over.
The teachers strongly held the view that parents were equally responsible for ensuring that the students were academically successful. According to them, responsible parents arranged for their child to attend remedial classes, or private group tutorial services offered in the morning for students who attended the afternoon shift in school and in the afternoon for students who were in the morning school shift. Some teachers offered special after-school sessions on Saturdays to go over the content covered through that week and openly berated the parents, when they came to pick up their child, for not taking responsibility for making sure their child had the necessary notes (or “portion”) and for forcing the need for these make-up sessions. The study argues that, despite efforts towards education for all, the poorest of the poor continue to be the most disadvantaged in terms of access to quality education.
Former Community College Professor Jane Theifels describes several initiatives she has led as an EL Specialist for the US State Department…
May of 2011 was approaching, a magic date for me, the time of my retirement from 32 years of ESL Teaching at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
However, instead of staring ahead at a blank screen, I held two future prospects on my horizon. First, I was now a registered nurse, having studied in my college’s two-year evening nursing program, while teaching during the day. I was following my dream of going on medical missions to other countries. Secondly, I enrolled in the English Language Specialist Program sponsored by the US State Department and Georgetown University.
I discovered the EL Specialist Program at a TESOL information session. I knew it would be a perfect fit for me on retirement. I would become part of a database where I could be notified of English opportunities abroad, ranging from two weeks to several months. These opportunities would arise when a Ministry of Education in a particular country approached the US Embassy there asking for an English Language Specialist to fill a special need.
In 2014 I answered a request to go to Togo to do teacher training in interactive methodology in the capital, Lomé, and in three villages outside the capital. Fifty chosen teachers came to each village training from afar and were lodged for the 4 days in retreat houses. Four Togolese teacher trainers also each had a session on one of the conference days. My focus was on Active Grammar, the Interactive Classroom, Writing, Learning Styles, and Gender Equality. The response was overwhelmingly positive for all of us.
In 2016 there was a request to go to Benin for six weeks and travel throughout the country conducting a survey of English language teaching with the Assistant to the Minister of Higher Education and a retired English Language Inspector. This survey was to pave the way for the introduction of English in the public primary schools. Five weeks later the three of us handed in our extensive report, and now there is a pilot program with 72 trained teachers of English in the first and second grades of the public primary schools.
The request to travel to Djibouti came in 2017, this time requiring curriculum development over a two-month period. After meeting with English coordinators, it was determined that the 9th grade book be rewritten, and our team of two Djiboutian curriculum developers and I did just that. The book is now hot-off-the-press for use this school term.
My Djiboutian contract also stipulated a return for two weeks to do teacher training in interactive methodology and teacher observations. In fact, I am writing this on the airplane on my trip back to the U.S. after those amazing two weeks in Djibouti.
I say to you that if you want to see the world and deeply immerse yourself in a new culture while working alongside new colleagues on a creative and meaningful task, I can’t think of a better way to do it than with the EL Specialist Program. Each assignment opens a new world where you and your new colleagues share your expertise and bond together. You emerge from these experiences with new friends, new vistas, new cultural awareness and a mutual contribution that enhances English teaching in the country. Try it! You’ll love it!
This blog was written by a Doctoral Student at the University of California, San Diego who wishes to be anonymous.
On the evening of October 13th, 2018, I received a text from a friend that I was not expecting. It came in the form of a link to an article entitled “Hundreds of Hondurans head for U.S. border in mass migration ‘march’: report,” with a short message indicating what the article was about. My heart sank. As the webpage loaded, hundreds of faces rushed through my head–faces of all those I know and care about in Honduras.
The specifics of the article in itself did not surprise me: “64% of Honduran households live in poverty. Many of the migrants are fleeing a poor economy and some of the highest crime rates in the world” (Dedaj, 2018). These statistics and lived realities have been ever-present throughout my work in the region over the past five years, and yet this ‘march’ appears so sudden–especially considering the recent Central American caravan of migrants this past May.
It did not take long for me to find various sources on the issue, including the Washington Post which estimated that the group had “swelled” from 160 to 1,600 as it headed towards Guatemala; and while much of the focus has been on contesting or confirming this estimation as well as what the U.S. and Honduras plan to do in response, it is the sheer magnitude of this group that I feel has the potential to detract from the inalienable fact that each of these humans has a story and that their stories matter.
Currently, I am the director of a non-profit in Honduras which works with rural schools to provide teacher development and empowerment opportunities (the exact name and location have been withheld for protection of those referenced in this article). Our work, led by local Honduran educators, has reached ~2,500 individuals over the past year including teachers, administrators, parents, and children in some of the most impoverished areas in the country. I am humbled to have a community that trusts me and shares their stories; I am grateful to be a part of their lives. It is because of their stories, that I have been compelled to write this one–one that humanizes those in the migrant caravan, and brings us closer to understanding just how important each story is.
On October 14th, 2018 a close Honduran friend called me. She was struggling with anxiety attacks as her mother, brother, and sister had joined the caravan. Her brother, a shy, tall, skinny 17-year-old, was traveling with a limp left arm. In the December election protests (The incumbent was reelected, which is deemed unconstitutional in Honduras) he was hit by a stray bullet–requiring that his arm be immobilized by a large metal contraption for over ten months. When I saw him just 3 months ago, he was still struggling to fight off fevers from infection. My friend’s mother had lived in the U.S. for seven years, suffering the attacks of an abusive husband as she feared constant threats of deportation; every time I saw her she would laugh and joke uncontrollably–a practice my friend attributes to her need to mask the pain of her circumstances. This family has lived in poverty for decades, challenged to find stable work and reeling from the recent murder of the youngest teenage brother, to gang violence. As my friend relayed her fears, I listened and did my best to comfort her from a distance. Her heart heavy she said, “they are going to the U.S. in search of opportunity; they are risking their lives for a chance at a better one.”
On October 15th, 2018 I held a video call with two organization staff members for our bi-monthly meeting. The day prior they had held our monthly professional development opportunity for lead teachers from the schools we support. In this community-oriented space, we often learn about the personal and professional struggles these teachers face on a day-to-day basis; this month the migrant caravan was a key topic on everyone’s mind. In reflecting on the event, they started by sharing that this weekend an estimated 3,000 migrants had left Honduras. when I confirmed I was aware of the situation but not the number, they continued; two schools had documented at least seven students who had left with the caravan, and four teachers expressed having family members or close friends who had joined. To them this was not just a news story, this was a part of their reality, filled with people that they care for and are concerned about.
This “march” of migrants that “swelled” prior to reaching the Guatemalan border, formed just one day after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to persuade their citizens to stay home (Associated Press, 2018). News reports have said that the group can be heard singing the Honduran national anthem, praying and chanting, “Yes, we can” (Lakhani, 2018). However, when the media uses words that connect this group of migrants to a natural disaster or a dangerous invasion, these stories of resilience and connectedness can be forgotten, dehumanizing the individuals and generating fear (Pugh, 2004; Perera, 2002). While the news will continue to follow this migrant group as they get closer and closer to the U.S., I argue that their stories go far beyond why they are leaving and what they hope to find for their futures. Their stories include the political repression and violence that they are fleeing, the systems put in place to maintain inequality and poverty, and the history of U.S. capitalist interests in Honduras that has left the country economically crippled and heavily militarized. Adding these points to the conversation about the “migrant caravan” are so important to contextualize just what they are leaving behind and what returning might mean for their safety and opportunities.
I write this to call attention to the damage that the media narrative can have on public views towards migrants and to argue that centralizing individual stories can help combat this trend of dehumanization. It can help to connect those digesting the news to those they may have never met and can generate a productive dialogue grounded in empathy over fear. From her brother, to our teachers’ students, to those they left behind–each story matters. The migrant caravan is a compilation of many yet to be heard.
Associated Press. (2018, October 15).Over 1,500 Honduran migrants join growing caravan to Guatemalan border. CBS News, Retrieved from NBC News
Dedaj, P. (2018, October 14). Hundreds of Hondurans head for US border in mass migration ‘march’: report. Fox News, Retrieved from Fox News
Lakhani, N. (2018, October 15). ‘Yes, we can’: caravan of 1,600 Honduran migrants crosses Guatemala border. The Guardian, Retrieved from The Guardian
Perera, S. (2013). Oceanic Corpo-graphies, Refugee Bodies and the Making and Unmaking of Waters. Feminist Review, 103, p. 58-79.
Pugh, M. (2004). Drowning Not Waving: Boat People and Humanitarianism at Sea. Journal of Refugee Studies, 17(1).
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.