Thursday, 13 December 2007

Schools within Schools CAN work

Images of one of the new campuses being built on the "schools within schools" model
Splitting one large dysfunctional school into four separate schools within one campus was one the initiatives I managed last year for the Ministry. With just 15 weeks to achieve every aspect of this total transformation, the challenge was high. With over 1,000 students on buildings spread over nine acres there were a myriad of issues including low expectations, morale and student behaviour. Big challenges bring adrenalin and as we achieved the target it yet again demonstrated the real importance of teamwork. We achieved what everyone said was impossible.

Sixteen months on, this "schools within schools" model each with a maximum of 250 students has made a dramatic difference to students and staff morale, parent satisfaction and the teaching and learning opportunities for students. Crucially achievement has begun to rise.

The three new high learning environments that we are building also reflect this "schools within schools" model. For this concept to work however, it is vital that we employ exceptional leaders and teachers with good (or better) teaching ability, skills and vision. There MUST be a culture of high expectation throughout and poor practice must be consistently challenged. The balance of the team is important ensuring that all core skills are taught (including literacy and numeracy) and that there is total access to the full curriculum. The sense of belonging has been significant in our experience but special focus must be given to those staff working "across campus" along with any subject coordination issues.
Where schools have split into smaller schools without this focus, then results have been really what one could predict. If you do the same thing as you have always done, even in a smaller environment, it is unlikely much would change. (The styles of teaching and learning within these new campuses MUST be different - there are few traditional classrooms - these are not "cells" and "bells" but large flexible teaching spaces but much more on this is in a separate post)

Other benefits of these smaller schools have been apparent and may be better than expected. The increased sense of identity and ownership of their small schools by students and staff has been dramatic, and the individual school identities, with a series of unique ideas and intiatives have been just plain exciting. Despite their own autonomy and acccountabilities, the School Leaders and Campus Manager fully function as a Campus management team ensuring full co-ordination.

If we can achieve this culture of high expectation an "ownership" on our new campuses, the future does indeed look very exciting for all those people using these new facilities and indeed for the country and students achieve higher standards.
Architects of new high schools: oWp/p, Concept designs by Fielding Nair International

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