A bigger focus on school ethos could produce ‘huge benefits for little financial cost’, according to a paper from Teach First ‘Ambassadors’, individuals who have been through the Teach First Programme.
‘Our experience,’ the authors say, ‘is that not enough schools adequately value ethos and culture and that, where they do value ethos and culture, their efforts are not as successful as they might be.’
The paper ascribes this failure to the short-term focus on academic achievement that results from league tables, and the way these create ‘the impression that focusing effort on long-term, relatively intangible projects such as ethos and culture is an unaffordable luxury.’
The authors also note that schools find it difficult to work out how to build a positive. ‘Whilst it is fairly simple,’ the report says, ‘to establish a behaviour policy and a new badge, it is harder to constantly monitor the experience of over 1000 pupils to ensure that their experience is consistent with the school’s stated ethos and culture.’
Involving students, though, is crucial. ‘Pupils need to be a central part of influencing the culture,’ says one Teach First Ambassador, ‘to give them ownership and make them proud of something that they have contributed substantially to.’
The report also argues that senior leaders, teachers and pupils should ‘be able to collaborate and communicate with each other, and they should model the beliefs and values of their school and see them modeled in each other.’
Responding to the report, Education Secretary Michael Gove agrees that ‘the most successful schools are those with a strong ethos led by an outstanding head supported by enthusiastic and dedicated staff.’
Ethos and culture in schools in challenging circumstances: A Policy First Publication can be downloaded from here.