What is the single most revealing thing about any school?

A great question from a brilliant website: what’s the single most revealing thing about any person?

Many of the answers posted on Quora, and discussed in this podcast are as enlightening as you would hope.  ‘A man is known by the company he avoids’ says one contributor, while another suggests that observing how someone treats people that they don’t necessarily need to be nice to is the most revealing sign of character.  In the podcast above, our host suggests tracking how people spend their every dollar; his co-host would rather track someone’s every minute.  I recently saw someone drop a tray of pints in a crowded pub – the angry finger-pointing that followed told me all I needed to know about them.  Apparently Maya Angelou’s acid test involved noting how people responded to a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.

Perhaps the same question could lead to a better understanding of our schools?

So what might be the single most revealing thing about any school?  The link between the responses above is that all of the indicators are things that are not usually tracked or measured.  We know that we need to be polite to our would-be boss at an interview, but how do we treat the receptionist who took our coat on arrival?  Similarly, in our schools, there are plenty of indicators that schools know will be measured, but perhaps there are a few tell-tale signs of school performance that we currently neglect.

Here’s my starter for twelve:

  1. How do students treat supply teachers?  What happens to the work produced in these lessons?
  2. Is the maths department fully staffed?
  3. What is the rate of staff turnover?
  4. What happens in tutor time?
  5. What training do middle leaders receive before taking on their roles?
  6. What were the results of Y11 students at each decile last year?  (We’re familiar with threshold figures but we can sometimes lose track of the qualifications that students actually walk away with.  I would like to see the actual outcomes of ten students throughout the attainment range [one at each decile] and compare these with students at other schools).
  7. What percentage of students achieved more than 5 A/A* grades last year?
  8. How do students treat lunchtime supervisors?
  9. What happens when students don’t complete their homework?  How do you know?
  10. How do you identify and support students who are not yet proficient in reading and writing?
  11. Can you show me the best work students have produced in Y8 History this year? (choose any subject, any year)
  12. What exactly is agreed in the ‘home-school agreement’?

We know that performance measures nudge schools to focus on certain things (see my previous blogs on Y11 intervention e.g. HERE and HERE) often at the expense of other equally important things.  Perhaps we could understand our schools better by shining a light on some of these hidden indicators.

UPDATE: How did I forget the state of the students’ toilets?  Thanks John Rentoul for the reminder.  The proportion of lessons taught by supply teachers would also be interesting.



2 thoughts on “What is the single most revealing thing about any school?

  1. I think too, you could have something about the role of the caretaker/facilities manager in the school – do staff know who they are? Are they integral to the life of the school? Are they willing to assist? Are they visible, on site etc?


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