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Hallmarks of a good private school

Discussion in 'Independent' started by Northernsole, Jul 8, 2020.

  1. Northernsole

    Northernsole Occasional commenter

    What are the distinguishing practices that differentiate 'tier 1' schools from the rest. I will start with:

    1. Only hiring qualified and well-experienced teachers;
    2. A good transparent renumeration/salary scheme;
    3 SLT possessing at least 10 years chalkface experience each;

    Anything else?
  2. TheoGriff

    TheoGriff Star commenter


    Have a look at their finances on the Charity Commission website.

    How much of a featherbed do they have in these difficult times?

    If applying for a SLT post, ask the school for management accounts.

    Best wishes

    Twitter @Theo_Griff
    Northernsole and ACOYEAR8 like this.
  3. Skeoch

    Skeoch Star commenter

    Check accounts via Charity Commission website or Companies House. Read ISI reports.
  4. CabbageWhite20

    CabbageWhite20 Occasional commenter

    Read ISI reports and track pupil numbers over time.
    Northernsole likes this.
  5. CabbageWhite20

    CabbageWhite20 Occasional commenter

    These sound good but - I’ve only worked in top schools and some of the most inspirational and successful teachers I worked with were unqualified (not most, but some). I’ve also worked under ‘top tier’ heads who had transitioned successfully from outside education. I’ve also seen salary schemes flex to attract the right people.
    One of the things that can make an independent school exceptional is having the freedom not to follow the rules.*

    *That can also be one of the annoying factors of working in them too.
    Bungie, sabrinakat and Skeoch like this.
  6. Northernsole

    Northernsole Occasional commenter

    I agree that non-qualified teachers can be inspirational. But, if they were serious, and wanted to improve as professionals, tney would get themselves certified. You can get QTS whilst teaching. If you teach and are not qualified, then that tells me a lot about you. Even a highly competent teacher, if they are unqualified, it tells me that they don't feel the need to get a 'piece of paper'. They have decided that they are already as good as they are going to get, they have no space to grow or to improve. I wouldn't want someone like that teaching my children. I (like every good professional in every field) regularly review my skills, and look for areas to improve. I am a very experienced teacher (this is a nice way of saying very old). My IT skills are way below those of much younger teachers who are able to produce outstanding, all singing all dancing fully immersive and interactive lessons. I know this is a weakness and I am actively looking at PD to improve this. I will probably never reach their level of competence, but I will continue to improve.
  7. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    I'm guessing, from your recent posts, this is what you think you need to look for in your next school. However, I'm not sure how you want to define a tier 1 school...I've always thought of them as ones who charge incredibly high fees (and so can afford amazing facilities) and have a long history.
    But your points are not necessarily true for them.

    The 'tier 1 schools' near here seem to have super clever SLT who have done things like write books or sailed round the world and so on...the websites make less mention of length of service.
    sabrinakat, Northernsole and Skeoch like this.
  8. Northernsole

    Northernsole Occasional commenter

    My understanding of a tier 1 school is that the SLT do their level best to ensure that they hire the best teachers they can attract, ensure that conditions in the school are those that retain the best teachers. A school that ensures that student learning is at the heart of every decision made. An example of a tier 1 school would be The International School of Geneva. Teachers rarely leave, the students get admirable results and are pretty much all happy to tell people what a great school it is and what a great learning establishment it is.

    I will add another point to my list above;

    4. Professional development is mandatory, useful and well funded directed towards the teachers' needs as professionals to further enhabce student learning.
  9. Skeoch

    Skeoch Star commenter

    I would be looking for diversity of background among the staff. I would hope that many had not gone from university straight into teaching. Research, top level sport, writing, the armed forces, the church, law, merchant banking, performing arts, university teaching, professional music and other experiences have all been important in making some of the colleagues I've worked with into the inspiring and effective teachers they are.
    I can see the argument for QTS or an equivalent qualification, but not having one doesn't mean that the teachers concerned don't care about professional development. They will seek out the learning and development they need in many ways besides QTS.
  10. CabbageWhite20

    CabbageWhite20 Occasional commenter

    We might have to agree to disagree here!
    caterpillartobutterfly and Ro13 like this.
  11. Northernsole

    Northernsole Occasional commenter

    Heart of a good debate! It would be such a boring life if we all agreed on everything. I have worked with a couple of fantastic unqualified teachers over the years, but I cannot shake the feeling (prejudice) that teaching is a profession and should be undertaken by professionals. I don't want to have my hip replaced by a keen amateur, I don't want my pilot to announce that he isn't actually qualified to fly a 747, but he does fly cessnas a lot etc
  12. hhhh

    hhhh Star commenter

    Half-way house here! In the past, teachers didn't need to be qualified, so they might well be very experienced and do informal PD, but not think the 'piece of paper' is what matters. I appreciate that now, in most places, your surgeon or pilot would HAVE to have their certs for insurance/regulations etc, but if I were in a place that DIDN'T have such regulations (should any countries not), I'd rather have a very good, experienced surgeon, who didn't have the certs, than someone who had just got the cert but had hardly any experience and wasn't very good at it!

    As for not coming into teaching straight from uni, while I can see advantages to knowing about 'real life',someone who has gone straight into teaching will have many years of experience by the time they retire, and has probably always wanted to teach, so I wouldn't necessarily see that at a bad thing.
  13. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    My school would, rightly, say it does all of these.
    But most definitely not a tier 1 school...how many tiers are there by the way?
  14. Northernsole

    Northernsole Occasional commenter

    Generally accepted (IMU) that there are 3 tiers. 1st tier are the top schools worldwide, 2nd tier are the 'aspirational' schools and former tier 1 down on their luck, still good places to work at but not tier 1 and tier then there is tier 3. Tier 3 schools hire who they can get cheaply, pay lip service to educational aims and are really nothing more than businesses disguised as educational establishments. I have worked in tier 2 & 3 schools. I have heard of a 5 tier system, but I am less familiar with it.
  15. Northernsole

    Northernsole Occasional commenter

    Maybe I should edit, "The best teachers that they can attract", to simply "The best teachers" The best schools are able to recruit better teachers. I know of a school in Switzerland that regularly receives 200+ applicants for each position advertised. I have worked in a school where in at least two occasions, the only person who made it to interview, got the post.
  16. Boardingmaster

    Boardingmaster Occasional commenter

    I would argue the big difference in the best schools is the determination to unashamedly push their pupils hard (some might argue overly so) and beyond their comfort levels in multiple areas of life; academics, sports, music etc and the relentless pursuit of excellence. Of course the schools on this (in my view quite limited) list have the financial base, facilities, staff and usually selected students to enable them to pursue this ethos.

    As a teacher, I found the noticeable difference between teaching in top schools and lower tier ones to be the real commitment to excellence in every aspect of school life from staff and pupils alike. As a basic example, end of year exams at one hmc school I worked at were the same paper every year thrown together in word, whereas at another, new papers were written each year for each yeargroup, with each paper having a writer, an editor and a checker, and going through multiple revisions before finally being formally typeset. Somewhat a waste of effort? Possibly, but the sense was that if a job were to be done it should be done properly and to the highest standard.

    As to qualified teachers, my experience is most top schools will aim to appoint teachers on at least their second or third school rather than fresh out of uni/PGCSE, at which point it is somewhat irrelevant whether they hold QTS. The exception being graduate assistants who prove themselves in their year and stay on, again this offer is only made if they are good enough, so lack of QTS not really relevant.
    TheoGriff and Northernsole like this.
  17. Boardingmaster

    Boardingmaster Occasional commenter

    As to how many tiers of school, I’ve always liked the taxonomy described in decline and fall:

    “We class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate School, Good School, and School. Frankly," said Mr Levy, "School is pretty bad”
  18. caterpillartobutterfly

    caterpillartobutterfly Star commenter

    So teachers not in tier 1 schools are less good teachers?Wow!
    I have worked in many schools where this has been the case. Location of the school and the subject being advertised have more to do with it than anything else.
    I think this is what makes the difference. Advantages are there to be had by those with the means to pursue them.
    TheoGriff and Boardingmaster like this.
  19. Northernsole

    Northernsole Occasional commenter

    No, There are excellent teachers in all kinds of schools, even in tier 3. The difference is, Poor teachers do not get a job in tier 1 schools, or if they do manage to slip in, are shown the door very quickly. My first overseas teaching job could only have been in a school described as tier 3 if we were very, very generous. Better schools would not have touched me since I had little experience, so I had to take what was offered.

    Most teachers want to do the best job they can, and many will get frustrated by being in a school that holds them back from getting the best out of their students. Schools that allow excessive interference from parents, rampant grade inflation, refusing to hold students to high standards etc I attended an informal PD at an excellent school a few years back. I asked the head if I could observe a few classes and was really gobsmacked by the quality of the teaching I saw and the level of student engagement. This wasn't pre-planned I just popped into classes. I don't know what the teachers were paid, but they appeared to be earning every penny of it.
    TheoGriff likes this.
  20. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    I guess things have changed in recent years, but there were a number of brilliant but unqualified teachers in the first HMC school in which I worked, back in the 1960s. The art department included a well-known and widely exhibited local artist who had no intention of taking a year out for a PGCE. The English department included a part-time TV newsreader who had trained at RADA and who mounted wonderful school dramatic productions. The games department included a former Kent cricketer and a former professional rugger player (from Harlequins, IIRC). It all made for a very lively common room and I doubt very much that the kids' education suffered from a dearth of PGCEs. Rather it benefitted from such a wealth of professional experience.

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