Traits of a world class school

Written by: Miranda Perry | Published:
In touch: Sandringham students operating the amateur radio station for the first live school contact with Tim Peake on the International Space Station in January 2016

Drawing on case studies from the World Class Schools Quality Mark, Miranda Perry looks at some of the traits and practices of the very best schools in England

Not so long ago, England was once again being criticised for its performance in the international PISA rankings, having made little progress since the last set of results three years ago. But we know this is not a fair reflection of school performance in England. So we asked schools that have a proven track record of some of the very best achievement for pupils in this country what it is they do that means they can compete on the international stage, and counter criticism prompted by the PISA statistics.

Looking beyond exams: Clapton Girls’ Academy, London

Clapton Girl’s Academy in Hackney believes exams should not be at the heart of what a school does.

“Students need to be successful in exams but if you start by building character then the success in exams follows,” explained headteacher Anna Feltham. “They are one path, not two separate ones.”

The school, which has 56 per cent Pupil Premium, has a great reputation and it puts much of that down to the work it does on building character, and helping pupils to help themselves.

It offers an enormous range of non-curriculum-based activities where students get an opportunity to develop skills of Compassion, Ambition, Integrity and Resilience – known as the academy’s CAIR values.

“These opportunities ensure every student experiences success,” Ms Feltham continued. For example, a Teens and Toddlers Programme sees selected students spend a morning in a local primary school working with a vulnerable toddler who they support in learning and play.

Meanwhile, a Progression Project helps students to identify their own strengths and advises them on how to use them to best effect.

And an Umpire/Officials Skills Programme targets students who do not see their future as players and instead develops their skills as referees or officials in sports.

As a result, the school now has a number of pupils who have qualified to officiate in national league and professional league basketball games.

Ms Feltham added: “I think it is important to avoid the assumption that to get results in EBacc subjects, you need to do more of them and less of everything else. We have found our girls, particularly our most disadvantaged, cannot access the EBacc subjects, unless we first educate the whole child.”

Student leadership: Wymondham College, Norfolk

Student leadership and student voice activities are a fairly normal part of school life these days, but in many schools they are still token gestures. Not so at Wymondham, one of the country’s few state boarding schools, where it permeates every aspect of school life.

The school has its “i-Lead” programme, with students taking on specific responsibilities for nurturing and supporting other students in specific subjects, in sport, in homework, in music (including organising a student-led music competition for 700 students), in marketing, and in managing the school buildings.

Principal Jonathan Taylor explained: “Extending leadership opportunities beyond the usual student council roles has a tremendous impact on the ethos of the college.

“Regular leadership opportunities develop confidence, raises self-esteem and teach resilience. All qualities that contribute to world class students, in a world class school. In our large school hundreds of our students are regularly leading and supporting the development of others and in turn develop themselves.”

A thoroughly international outlook: Sandringham School, Hertfordshire

Now more than ever, with the prospect of Brexit a reality, building global awareness and a sense of international partnership will be crucial to our country’s future. At Sandringham School, they see no limits when it comes to international opportunities for both students and staff.

The school is in its eighth year of partnership with a school in The Gambia and it has had a huge impact on student and staff development.

Experiences: Sandringham School’s head boy and head girl deliver an assembly to more than 300 Gambian students at Farafenni Senior Secondary High School


Headteacher Alan Gray says the key to a successful international partnership is committing to the long term and building a really meaningful relationship. The two schools share performance and financial data, they organise two visits each way every year, and they established a clear vision of what the partnership was about from the start.

They also ensure plenty of time is given for leaders to think creatively together for the future and for students to develop long-term friendships with their partner school peers. Sandringham also holds regular international themed weeks, culminating in a festival where students perform in a wide variety of languages.

It is also advising on the setting up of an international school in Singapore and hopes to contribute to its running in the future. School trips are organised to locations all over the world, to partner schools in Germany, France and Spain and to destinations such as Costa Rica, Borneo, Nepal and Ecuador.

Mr Gray added: “It’s not just about enhancing our students’ understanding of other languages and cultures but also broadening their view of the world and how they might contribute to its development in the future.”

A carefully crafted pathway: Harris Academy Chafford Hundred

At Harris Academy Chafford Hundred, they take the need to help all students to be successful, regardless of their starting points very seriously. With an intake that is broadly in line with the national average, their outcomes are significantly above average, with more than 80 per cent of their students achieving at least five A* to C grades, including English and maths, for six consecutive years.

These impressive outcomes are the fruit of much hard work by key staff, who make sure that they have an accurate profile of the students as soon as possible.

Primary school data is further clarified through a range of diagnostic assessments. This enables teaching and support staff to target programmes and interventions most effectively.

For those students who need support, time and resource is deployed swiftly and the effectiveness monitored closely.

They do not stop working with them until they close any gaps between chronological age and reading age to ensure their literacy is sound and they have devised programmes to support students to gain a better grounding in the basic rules of maths.

According to the principal, Nicola Graham, the curriculum offers opportunities for the most able to excel and be able to access opportunities often denied to children of humble origins.

They can enjoy accelerated pathways through mathematics, as well as lessons in Latin and Mandarin.

Ms Graham said: “This does require us to be willing to be utterly flexible with timetabling and to work closely with parents and staff to build pathways for our students, but it does mean that these students’ own form of special educational need is satisfied and school remains a fulfilling and stimulating experience.”

The absolute belief that all students should not only achieve but excel in their own right underpins every decision made in this school. It has led to striking levels of progress that far exceed the national picture for students across the board, regardless of starting points and socio-economic factors. Ms Graham is determined to protect this ethos, despite the considerable pressure of budgets at this time.

Strong links between the curriculum and the workplace: Rushcliffe School, Nottinghamshire

“We have to take employability seriously when we are educating children. What they’re learning about should be relevant to the workplace. Now more than ever we need to set them up to thrive in the global economy,” explained executive head Phil Crompton.

Rushcliffe has recognised that far more than traditional work experience and the odd employer talk is needed to achieve this and it has begun working with more than a dozen local employers to bring the curriculum to life. Projects so far have included activities such as taking orders in Spanish at a tapas bar, designing eco-houses of the future for a building firm and creating bags for life for the country’s biggest manufacturer of re-usable bags (see Employability skills: Unlocking Talent and Potential, SecEd, May 2016: http://bit.ly/2iRz4Bw).

The projects have been going down a storm with pupils, teachers, parents and employers because unlike traditional school-business link ups, which can feel like a random tag-on activity, these have been fully integrated into the curriculum, building on and enhancing what pupils are already learning.

At the same time the challenges, which teachers and businesses have jointly devised, have given pupils an opportunity to develop key employability skills such as team-working, communication and problem-solving. They’ve also offered an insight into different jobs, helping students refine their career choices. Mr Crompton added: “Employability is right at the heart of why people send their children to school. It shouldn’t be about skills versus facts, we need both.”

  • Miranda Perry is founder and co-director of the World Class Schools Quality Mark.

Further information

The schools featured in this article have been awarded the World Class Schools Quality Mark, which assesses schools in a different way to Ofsted, focusing heavily on how well they are preparing students to thrive in the 21st century workplace and the global economy. Importantly, it is the students themselves, rather than school, who are assessed. Visit www.worldclass-schools.org or email info@worldclass-schools.org


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