A successful school becomes a popular school. And that can lead to its downfall. Here’s five things to look out for.
Like most parents, when you chose your child’s school there were a few things about it that you particularly liked. It could have been the staff, the facilities, the academic results, the interesting outdoor clubs. Or it could have been something intangible like the music in the air or the manner of the senior pupils. It was those elements that set the school apart from others that you had on your shortlist.
The chances are that you weren’t the only one thinking that way. Many other parents may have considered this a successful school and enrolled their children, just like you did.
But what if the school took on too many more pupils, too quickly? It happens. At some point, maybe a couple of years later, you sense that the school has changed. The school you chose is not the school it has become. The successful school has become a victim of that success. And now it’s on a downward trajectory.
Here are five indicators to help you spot when the successful school is changing for the worse.
The successful school often has favourable teaching ratios
The first thing you’ll notice is a change in the teaching ratios. Class sizes increase because the school isn’t recruiting suitable staff quickly enough. Those benefits of more attention for every child, those opportunities for extra help, diminish. Appropriate specialist teaching is also affected. It is particularly noticeable when current staff are absent for a couple of days or maybe a prolonged period. The specialist teachers assume form teacher roles, so that they can no longer specialise. There may also be supply teachers who aren’t quite aligned because no one has the time to manage them properly.
The successful school often teaches a broad curriculum
The next stage is when the access to extra-curricular activities declines. There is less time to run them so the absolute number of clubs declines. Or more pupils want to participate but numbers are restricted. You’ll spot the change when your child participates in less clubs. The same happens to educational trips and visits. When teaching resource is under strain the broad curriculum narrows. At an extreme, there’s a “return to core”. The core being the core subjects and the exam syllabus.
Staff at a successful school have time for you and your child
By now the energy of the school will have changed. Staff may be stressed, short and/or tired. You’ll notice that they have less time for you and their pupils. They are in execution mode. Time affords people the opportunity to think, and think creatively. Time facilitates attention to detail. In a post successful school matters that you consider important will get missed. It’s as though the intangible glue that held the whole school community together has weakened.
The successful school often has access to a range of facilities
The final stage is when the number of facilities reduces to accommodate the extra pupils. Specialist rooms such as a computer suite, library, learning development room, language room make way for the new classes. The multi-purpose hall combines with dining room and the art room with the DT room. Temporary classrooms built on the playground, ironically viewed as an endorsement of a successful school merely reduce the available outdoor space.
All pupils achieve to their potential at a successful school
Ironically, you’re unlikely to notice any change in the success of the most able pupils. There will still be the headline exam grades and future schools/universities announcements. And you’ll not notice much difference year on year. The same goes for the performance of the top sports teams. They’ll still be winning a creditable number of matches and the school will still celebrate their triumphs.
It’s the level below where the problems lie, but they aren’t so visible. Pupil participation declines when resources become stretched. Opportunities for the B and C team decline. As does the attention needed to make average and less able fulfil their potential.
Of course, a school doesn’t have to be “post successful” to display these traits. Many state schools are showing the strains of decreasing budgets, increasing pupil numbers and over-stretched staff. And in that regard, commentators in the press and social media are pessimistic about how sustainable they are.