Apart from appearing to be a headline grabbing statement, with very few people being in a position to verify if it happens or if it actually works, it also relies on a substantial available workforce of sufficient calibre available and willing to travel anywhere at short notice and to have instant impact in a culture which may lack the capacity, at that moment, to be improved.
There are many reasons why schools may not thrive.
- They are a product of their local culture. The collective culture can be a strong force for positive or negative messages. Where they are negative, the school has to work extra hard, usually with already stretched resources, to get ahead of the issues and to build capacity into the students which then gets recognised as a good and, though celebration, becomes the new norm, enabling progress to continue.
- It’s hard to attract the best teachers/staff. This may be an apocryphal truism, as there are very many, very good teachers working in tough schools, to the advantage of the children. However, it is tough and, at times draining, so some teachers can reach burn-out quicker. Where the collective teacher spirit is high, this can counter many aspects of fast turn-over, so capacity building in the work force as a whole is essential.
- Buildings and environment need significant improvement. It is tough to teach and to learn in poor environments, with building and resource issues, simple.
- Leadership. Although there may have been a clear vision at the start of the journey, this can get deflected by a range of factors, teacher availability, turnover of staff, budget limitations and the number of high level distractions from available development time. Vision is lost if the high turnover of staff means that it has to be restated regularly. The school narrative is jerky, two steps forward and one back, with the one back often being demotivating. Budget limitations can mean that you don’t get ahead of the problem, through staff retention or quality of environment.
Like any good gardener, soil quality is an essential start point. While there may be a few weeds that need to be sorted, just taking a flame-thrower, or using a mass herbicide to do the weeding can seem excessive, with both often requiring a period after to allow the soil to repair. Tending the garden, applying fertilizer appropriately, focussing on soil structure, watching the developing plants with care, rather than just allowing the strongest to thrive at the expense of others, ensures the best possible crop.
Parachutists/ action women and men, are likely to offer some quick fixes, before moving on. Gardeners are there for the longer period.