What it means to be an outstanding school

What it means to be an outstanding school

The results of a five-year pilot study by a team of researchers at the Southern Cross University have outlined the four critical elements needed to create an ‘outstanding’ school.

The study was published in a book titled ‘Creating the Outstanding School’, which was released by Oxford Global Press and authored by Professor David Lynch, Jake Madden and Tina Doe.

Professor Lynch said governments around the world were calling on schools to improve their teaching and learning performance, adding the data had particular value for principals looking to drive improved learning outcomes at their schools.

“Socio-economic success in a technologically based global world is requiring all citizens to have high standards of education,” Professor Lynch said in a statement. 

“The challenge for school principals, who are charged with implementing such school reform agendas, is making pragmatic sense of the enormous volumes of largely disparate education research being conducted around the world.”

Professor Lynch conducted the study at a Coffs Harbour primary school. The first task for his team of researches was to define what was meant by an ‘outstanding’ school.

“We determined that an outstanding school [and hence the goals for this project] is one that can sustainably achieve defined learning outcomes – curriculum elements – in every student,” Professor Lynch said.

“With this definition, researchers worked with a local Coffs Harbour school to see if they could achieve these ends.”

The team focused on the key discipline of English, which was at the time regarded as “patchy” throughout the school. Following five years of intensive work by the school and its staff, the status of ‘outstanding’ in English was achieved.

The researchers concluded that four key elements were at the heart of creating and sustaining the ‘outstanding’ school:
  1.  A principal who had the drive, determination and personal leadership capacity to ‘sell the idea’ and then provide the required and ongoing direction for staff for the duration of the project. In the early stages, to be able to ‘cop the flack’ that yet another change program would create more workload for the busy classroom teacher.
  1. Distributed team based leadership: an arrangement that enabled teachers to work together in teaching teams to be able to deal with the vast range and scope of students and their individual learning needs in each classroom. Further, this arrangement appeared to focus teachers on key classroom matters and away from the various distractions that traditional top-down school leadership tended to manifest.
  1. Data driven decision-making: each teaching team was provided with regular data on their teaching and learning progress and this was presented in ways that enabled teachers to make informed teaching decisions for each student. Performance benchmarks for every student were set and teachers worked as a team to achieve them. This arrangement created an environment where teachers began to become educational researchers themselves, posing questions and then researching answers to further their work in classrooms.
  1. An intensive and ongoing coaching, mentoring and feedback regime: each teacher regularly underwent teaching observations and was then coached and mentored by accomplished teachers. Poor teaching performance was identified, and through coaching and mentoring it was improved.
Professor Lynch said the results of the study were brought together in the book ‘Creating the Outstanding School’, which provided an easy to read text that was all about ensuring every student gets a quality education.

The book features the Collaborative Teacher Learning Model (CTLM) and the elements of teaching, leadership, coaching, mentoring, feedback, data driven decision-making, high impact instruction.

Professor Lynch said each chapter explained a set of ideas and research-based strategies that schools and their teachers could employ to reform their school.

“We have identified and explained the key research-based elements that lie at the heart of creating the outstanding school,” he said.

“The book also features the idea of teachers as researchers as the embodiment of a school-based strategy for creating the outstanding school.”