This report is a literature review and summary of two decades of international research into school effectiveness. The review introduces notions of school effectiveness, and presents the types of research usually found under the guise of school effectiveness research (SER). It then goes on to draw out major themes and trends in the literature reviewed before concluding with a summary of the main points.
The resource aims to
- present accessible findings to practitioners and policy makers alike
- to explore the knowledge base of SER and some of the issues that pertain to measuring effectiveness
- to offer guidance on the best ways to compare schools, and on ways to link school effectiveness and school improvement.
The resource is ambitious in summarising three decades of research, some 170 papers, into 60 pages of report. The review comprises two sections. The first establishes what school effectiveness research is, and how it is carried out. It brings to light issues of definition of 'effectiveness'; issues in the comparison of schools; claims possible about the size of school effects; the types of outcomes schools can attain; and issues of equity.
Key messages from section one
The report highlights that most SER is concerned with how equitable schools are, how well they redress disadvantage, and how school and class processes narrow the achievement gap and promote outcomes for all. Its key questions then are what works, why does it work, how does it work, and when and how can we show its impact? From this perspective it states that SER is retrospective, analysing what happened and how effective it was. These questions are motivated by three drivers - philosophical, political and ethical.
The report highlights that the evidence gathered for SER is on the whole quantitative, it is reliable and generalisable, and takes into account the views of practitioners, parents, pupils and teachers. The empirical evidence collated is generally written up for an audience of practitioners and policy makers.
The term 'effective' is discussed and highlighted as problematic. The report takes the view that effectiveness is a relative concept, contingent on outcomes achieved over length of time and context. From the 'relative' perspective, school comparison is appropriate, where similar intakes and context can be found, but comparison should be in the form of value-added, not league table, indicators. For the purposes of the report, effectiveness applies equally to cognitive and affective outcomes, and sees a direct link between the two.
The final and most significant message from section one, concerns the claims that schools can make about their impact on pupils and the size of the effect they have. The research reviewed shows that teachers have more impact than the school, and school in turn has less impact than home background. Primary reading ages, for example, were found to be affected by up to 21% variance in home background and 8% variance in school effects. It must be stressed that SER findings do not suggest schools can, by themselves, overcome the powerful impact of social disadvantage. Nonetheless, attending an effective school can have a significant positive impact. Conversely, SER also shows that ineffective schools can alienate and so least serve the disadvantaged; the role of schools is therefore most pivotal in areas of social disadvantage.
Having clearly established the parameters of SER, the report moves on to identify what 30 years of research has shown as effective school processes. The starting point are common features of effective and ineffective schools across the literature base. From here, the report looks at three key themes; leadership, teaching and learning, and culture. Schools in disadvantaged communities are examined before the implications for school improvement are illuminated. The report next identifies a range of strategies or projects that have impacted on effectiveness in schools.
Key messages from section two
Eight common features of effective schools were identified from the range of literature. These were: "a productive climate and culture, a focus on central learning skills, appropriate monitoring, practice-oriented staff-development, professional leadership, parental involvement, effective instructional arrangements and high expectations" (p23). These were seen as part of the INPUT (of pupils with background context) - PROCESS (what schools and teachers do) - OUTPUT (impact measures for the pupils) chain. They were the processes that were repeatedly found to mean that pupils learnt more. Six school level processes that impact on the effectiveness of classrooms are identified and discussed, highlighting the need to analyse school, departmental, and class-based ‘effectiveness'.
'Ineffective schools' were also the focus of research. Factors common to them included: "a lack of vision, unfocussed leadership, dysfunctional staff relationships and ineffective classroom practices" (p26).
Three central areas of SER are discussed: school leadership, teaching and learning (especially the role of communication, assessment and feedback) and school culture (especially developing a culture of behavioural order, academic emphasis and a student focus), and each identified as pivotal in schools.
The stated implication for schools is that they need to link school improvement with school effectiveness more explicitly. This can be approached in a variety of ways: collegiality, research, site specific information, curriculum initiatives and instructional initiatives are cited as 'doors' into SER. The improvements need to cover the areas of 'effectiveness' already identified as important, and need to be a fit for the stage of development of the school (three types of school are described with different types of appropriate intervention).
Following this overview, the literature review discusses a series of specific SER innovations or initiatives including a highly effective school, the Improving the Quality of Education for All Project (IQEA), High Reliability Schools (HRS), the Literacy and Numeracy strategies in the England, and Ofsted Inspection.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource, and relevance to ITE
The conclusion to the report provides a summary of all the key points, and the references provide a list of key research into school effectiveness.
The report is a very useful resource - summarising so much research in school effectiveness was a massive undertaking. The report presents key messages from the literature reviewed. There is no detail of the methodology or of the inclusion criteria for the literature selected so it is therefore difficult to say whether the review is unbiased.
Of interest particularly to those teaching in challenging circumstances are that ineffective classroom practices were seen to be characterised by:
- Inconsistent approaches to the curriculum and teaching;
- Generally lower expectations for students of low SES;
- An emphasis on supervising and communicating about routines;
- Low levels of teacher-student interaction;
- Low levels of student involvement in their work;
- Student perceptions of their teachers as people who did not care, praise, provide help, or consider learning as important; and
- More frequent use of criticism and negative feedback.
Reviews of teacher effectiveness literature have identified a number of characteristics of effective teachers:
- They teach the class as a whole;
- They present information or skills clearly and animatedly;
- They keep the teaching sessions task-oriented;
- They are non-evaluative and keep instruction relaxed;
- They have high expectations for achievement (give more homework, pace lessons faster and create alertness);
- They relate comfortably to students (reducing behaviour problems).
A list of teacher behaviours, which promote achievement, stresses similar aspects:
- Emphasise academic goals;
- Make goals explicit and expect students to be able to master the curriculum;
- Organise and sequence the curriculum carefully;
- Use clear explanations and illustrate what students are to learn;
- Ask direct and specific questions to monitor students' progress and check their understanding;
- Provide students with ample opportunities to practise;
- Give prompts and feedback to ensure success;
- Correct mistakes and allow students to use a skill until it is over-learned and automatic;
- Review work regularly and hold students accountable for their work.
The report could have been structured better, however, to make it more accessible to its intended audience - use of more titles/subtitles and summaries at key points would ease a reader into the text.
This resource will be a fantastic key reader for all students in ITE. It brings up key definitional, methodological and process issues in school effectiveness and signposts further reading. It is also a good example of a literature review. Given the comprehensive and complex nature of some of the issues flagged up, it would be useful towards the end of an ITE course - pre dissertation.
Karen (Kaz) Stuart