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What Makes a Great Modern High School?

Posted on 13.07.2017
by  Laura Tanner, Head of Education

Reputation isn’t everything. With Ofsted’s ‘outstanding’ grades criticised by Dame Alison Peacock it can now be difficult for teachers and parents to find a truly great modern high school. Some have even called for a total scrap of Ofsted, but in the meantime, no solution has been agreed.

Whether you’re looking for a new teaching role in a school or are searching for the ideal place to send your children, it can be daunting. What are the criteria you should look for in modern high schools?

IT support

Perhaps the most important feature of a modern school is its IT infrastructure. More and more of our society is impacted and influenced by computers and the internet, and schools should provide an immersive technological environment for students and staff.  

When looking at schools, ask questions about their current and future plans for IT. Collaborative classroom tools and a robust social media policy are good indicators for schools that take technology seriously.  

Excellent parent teacher networking opportunities

Research shows that good links between parents and school teachers improves student enjoyment, and their chances of doing well. The more a parent understands what their child is learning, the more they can offer support and guidance. The key is open communication.

A few good schools offer social events outside of the regular parents’ evenings, giving a more frequent and informal opportunity for teachers and parents to network freely.

Adoption of contemporary teaching methods

Monkseaton High School in Tyne and Wear, 2016 contender for the Secondary School of the Year at the annual TES Schools Awards, has gained national praise for its innovative teaching methods.

Monkseaton High School took the inspired step of developing Spaced Learning. Spaced Learning is a method of embedding information in our long-term memory through repetition.

Spaced Learning is significant because it deploys neuroscientific research, which enables this process to take place very quickly.

Through thinking outside the box, working with the students, for the students, the school has made new educational breakthroughs.

Ethical and environmentally friendly

With the carbon footprint of schools reaching 9.4m tonnes CO2, there have been many efforts for ‘greener’ schools. Reducing carbon is not the only purpose of these endeavours. School buildings, food, waste and even the school curriculum should all support a connection to the environment.

One school has successfully incorporated green ways into house rules, with their mission statement being, “To promote environmentally friendly behaviour in school and beyond.”

That school is Sheffield High School for Girls. The school has been awarded the environmental ‘Green Flag’ for the third time from the Eco-Schools Scheme in Autumn 2016.

Aside from being a show of a school’s prudential ethos, it encourages students and staff to work together for a greater good beyond the classroom walls. It teaches students about the world at large and how they impact on it.

Friendly atmosphere

A warm, and welcoming atmosphere benefits all who enter a school.

Truro High School in Cornwall have said “Visitors are always struck by the friendliness and all-round enthusiasm of our Senior pupils. Encouraged to follow their dreams, they like to aim high”.

In a recent survey at the school, “happy” was used more than any other word to describe life at Truro and this results in very impressive results.

Last year, Truro High School scored a 99.6 per cent pass rate and celebrated the best GCSE results in years, going to show that happy students results in excellent grades.

Great modern foreign languages

The future of modern foreign languages in secondary schools is looking pretty bleak.

According to new data from the Teaching Schools Council less than half of secondary school pupils take a MFL GCSE with just one third achieving a good grade. There is also a chronic shortage of MFL teachers.

A school with a good MFL programme is a rare thing, resulting in only the most dedicated and forward thinking of schools now offering them. One such school is Chelmsford’s King Edward VI Grammar School in Essex.

“KEGS” as it’s known saw Year 9 linguists excel with their GCSEs in French and German, with an astonishing 70% of grades at A* and an A*/A percentage of 94% - both new school records. This demonstrates that if the school offers such programmes and the teachers are behind it, a UK school can excel in MFL.

Visionary leadership

Like so many areas in life, a great leader helps shape, define and drive a group or organisation. Schools with excellent head teachers stand out a mile.

Often there will be something unique about the head’s beliefs and/or teaching methods and it’s these maverick approaches to education that get them noticed and make all the difference.

A school with an illustrious head encourages students and teachers to thrive, benefiting individuals and the school at large.

Successful leaders have "great vision – the ability to formulate and shape the future, rather than be shaped by events", says Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School, Rutland.

Holland Park School Head Colin Hall is a wonderful example of a visionary leader. Clear-sighted, committed and inspirational, Hall wants his school to have 'the values and standards of a Fifties grammar school, available to everybody'.

Through Mr Colin Hall’s vision Holland Park School is profoundly dedicated to exacting high standards. Holland Park School strives to see people’s potential and makes detailed plans for its realisation is at the centre of its approach. “Recognising people’s personal strengths and development profile is important”.

Finding a truly great modern high school with which to work can take some time and research. Put in the groundwork and don’t be afraid to approach other teachers and those in education for recommended schools.

Top schools as cited by Ofsted can be a good rule of thumb but don’t let it be your only measurement of a school’s success.

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