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Teachers make great schools the world over

I visited a school in Uganda recently and was fascinated when the Head started to explain some of the day-to-day challenges she faced.  Rather amazingly her inbox sounded rather very familiar to what I experienced in UK.  How do you cope with a naughty child in Year 4?  Who covers Year 9 when the teacher is absent?  And my favourite, how do you encourage a reluctant parent pay their fees on time??

The interesting thing about schools in UK and those in a country like Uganda is not the differences but instead the similarities.  Yes, class sizes are bigger – often 50+ in one room, yes, they are likely to have a blackboard and chalk rather than a SmartBoard; but ultimately its about one teacher doing his or her best to improve the life chances of the children sitting in front of him.

I’m fortunate to be a Governor of two Primary schools in UK and also the Founding Director at Radnor House Sevenoaks, these perspectives have helped me understand the challenges faced by schools on a daily basis.  Parents are quite rightly the consumers of education and as such should have very high expectations of the leaders in their children’s schools.  Regardless of context this friction, between operation and parental expectation, is at the front line of the challenges faced by all schools worldwide, daily.

As a parent we want our children to be able to pass exams, we also expect them to be well rounded and have integrity.  Holding schools to account on the exams side of this equation is easy, they either do well or badly.  But how much do we really know about what impact a school has on the softer skills which are more difficult to measure? 

The degree to which schools are able to focus on these personal qualities often comes down to resources and time, do we have enough money to hire more specialist teachers to ensure children have a rich and varied education?  Or, are we running things so tightly that all we can do is focus on the data?  The primary sector is often stretched, resources are tight and its down to some inspirational and hardworking staff to do their best to provide variety whilst also meeting the demands of the local education committees.  Same is true in Uganda as I suspect it is across the world.

An influential report I read back in 2007 by Michael Barber for McKinsey entitled, ‘How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top’, showed clearly that the main differentiator in school success is teachers.  How we recruit, induct and ultimately continue to develop our teachers over the course of a career has the greatest impact on pupil outcomes.  This is a truism for schools the world over is one of the reasons I love working in education.