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A Manifesto for Excellence in Schools by Rob Carpenter
Telling the story of Foxfield Primary School’s journey from special measures to outstanding, A Manifesto for Excellence in Schools places relational, ethical leadership at the centre of the school improvement agenda. The metrics for successful student learning, as well as leadership of learning, have misguidedly focused simplistically on measurement and accountability, ignoring everything we know about the importance of collaboration, culture and trust. What I argue in the book is that not everything which can be measured matters and what matters most cannot always be easily measured.
A Manifesto for Excellence proposes an alternative vision for our education system. It argues the case for re-calibrating the purpose of learning so schools are seen as more than exam factories. Education has a role to ensure students find their place in the world, contribute more effectively, make explicit links between knowledge, skills and application in meaningful contexts. It is a kind of learning which values teamwork, creativity, diversity of opinion and an ethical framework. This is what I call ‘affective domain’. When we guide students to think more critically, more ethically, we provide agency between what is taught and why it matters. Teachers become more than ‘milkmen’ - deliverers of curriculum.
The most enduring education systems place students at the centre, cherishing relational learning, connecting education with making sense in a complex world. They have higher levels of equity (measured through both provision and results), less disparity of outcomes between student groups and view success in relation to trust-based rather than test-based accountability. Our best schools ask what school can do for students rather than what students can do for school.
The book identifies key themes for maximising learning at both student and teacher level. These include:
- The importance of learning environment as the invisible teacher
- A deliberate emphasis on ‘affective domain learning’ as well ‘cognitive domain learning’
- Strategies for empowering collaboration between teachers and students
- Ideas to maximise ‘bottom up’ school improvement
It offers a world-centred view of education which challenges the perception that students are merely a percentage figure. Instead, it argues that a more expansive approach to learning and education which celebrates the many gifts our students bring to the classroom creates a climate where everyone achieves.
The book also focuses on teacher behaviours. The real worth of teaching can often be found in the abstract, fluid kinds of exchanges when we model high-quality relationships - a child may not always remember what they were taught but will never forget how a teacher made them feel. It explores how we might generate a climate where specific behaviours lead to a mindset where all students thrive.
Finally, I argue that if we can separate teaching from learning, we have the potential to create more dynamic classrooms where deeper levels of thinking take place and the role of teacher and learner enable a more expansive and exciting set of experiences. The relationship between teaching and learning does not have to be a transactional one. Because you ‘teach’ something, it doesn't mean that it becomes ‘learnt’.
The stories contained in A Manifesto for Excellence in Schools belong to those who believe in a better way to deliver change in our schools. I hope it achieves its aim to provide encouragement to those who believe teaching pupils how to live is equally important as teaching them what to learn. As we demonstrated at Foxfield Primary School, these principles are not mutually exclusive and together they can deliver excellence in schools.