Globally competitive education

8 May 2013

As David Cameron said last year: “The global competitive race has never been faster; some countries will make it, some will not.” To succeed in this global race, the UK needs a world class education system and a highly skilled workforce. To consider this theme, Reform convened a private roundtable seminar with Neil Strowger and Philip Avery, Headteacher and Associate Headteacher of Bohunt School. The event was held under the Chatham House Rule.

In 2009, Bohunt School ranked 42 out of 71 schools in Hampshire. Now it is in the top 80 nationally and strives to be the best state-funded school in the country. There are three striking features about Bohunt’s approach that tie in with the agenda of educating a globally competitive workforce. Firstly, the widespread use of technology in the school, including iPads in classrooms. Secondly, the use of immersion language teaching. This was initially offered in French and German, and Mandarin is being introduced in September. Thirdly, the development of a STEM faculty at the school, to inspire invention and entrepreneurship by allowing the practical development of projects thought up in other science or maths lessons.

As Neil and Philip explained, it is the whole approach to teaching and learning at Bohunt which is important. The three principles of the school are: enjoy, respect and achieve. These have been at the core of Neil and Philip’s aim to take a good school and make it better. Innovation in teaching and learning has played a key role. Concern over a lack of creativity in the classroom led to the introduction of challenge-based learning and guided learning across the school. As with any organisation-wide change, staff buy-in has been essential. There is a strong focus on getting the best out of staff, with regular lesson observation and robust performance management processes. Significantly, Bohunt incentivised staff to drive up the quality of teaching. To use the school’s innovative teaching resources and spaces, teachers had to demonstrate that they would use them effectively.

The results speak for themselves. Pupils in the immersion language cohort (who are not selected on academic ability) outperform their peer group by a year across all subjects. It is clear that the school sets out to be a place of high expectations and this is embedded into the culture. Bohunt delivers an excellent education to pupils and there was wide agreement over the success of the school.

Yet some questions have been raised, including one around the scalability of the model. Could this approach be adopted by other schools or groups of schools, or at a national level? While there are challenges, with projects such as immersion language teaching the first step can be as simple as recognising the resources which a school might already have. Bohunt conducted a skills audit to identify linguistic experience among the members of staff. It would be straightforward for schools to replicate this to help ascertain the feasibility of introducing an immersion language scheme. In addition, the creation of “cluster groups” or change teams of staff members, which drive innovation across departments at Bohunt by giving teachers responsibility for specific programmes and projects, could be implemented in any school. At the heart of driving and implementing these types of initiatives is the leadership and culture of a school.

What works for Bohunt might not work for every school, and top down policy from Government is not necessarily the answer either. What is important is that schools have the autonomy to make these changes. In addition, change does not have to come at significant extra cost. Bohunt has transformed itself into one of the best schools in the country without spending more money. Many of the principles of Bohunt’s success could and should be adopted by all schools. Setting a culture of high expectation is perhaps the most important. Bohunt could once have been described as a “coasting school”. Not any more.

Summary of a Reform roundtable seminar on “Globally competitive education” on 1 May 2013, led by Neil Strowger and Philip Avery, Headteacher and Associate Headteacher of Bohunt School.

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