"What makes a school good?" is a question of particular significance due to the important impact of education on the future of every child and on the development of societies.  This issue is of special importance to educational authorities and educational leaders as they are responsible for developing policies that should lead to effective schooling. The question is also important to parents as they have to make correct decisions when selecting schools for their children.  In our view, a good school is one that maximises students’ readiness for life through development of useful knowledge foundations, sound decision-making and thinking skills, healthy personal and social habits and skills, and a commitment to lifelong learning.  Performance of a school should hence be measured against the value it adds to its students’ readiness for life and in this article we shed light on the major determinants of good schooling.

There is strong reciprocated influence between every school and the community it serves; a good school would strongly contribute to the education of its community as a whole including the promotion of values that treasure education and good discipline.  The community in return should be ready to provide different forms of support to the school.  Schools benefit from serving communities which value education.  A school which serves a community of ‘good readers’, for example, has greater chances of success than schools which serve communities which do little reading.  A well-disciplined community also adds value to its schools. Students who come from such communities cooperate better with their teachers and positively influence their own education.

The quality of leadership influences all school operations and enables a school to accomplish its mission and develop continuously.  A good school has a leadership team which articulates the educational vision and models good values to all stakeholders.  A good leader is both decisive and consultative; their main goal is raising student achievement within an environment where all are working together in pursuit of this aim.  Close guidance and support, high levels of communication, networking, reflection and continuous education are at the heart of the work of leaders of good schools.

The competence of its human resources, and more specifically its teachers, is another major characteristic of a good school.  Teacher competence is to be measured by their effectiveness in promoting their students development.  Although teachers benefit in their career from having a good degree and relevant experience, some unfortunately remain less effective than more talented, less experienced colleagues, who may even hold lower academic qualifications. A good school recognises the prime importance of teacher effectiveness on student learning and aims to employ the most effectual classroom practitioners.  A good school is one whose administration realises that teacher competence is measured by their effectiveness rather than by their university degrees or number of years of service.

Schools need adequate facilities and material resources; the architecture of school buildings, for example, should ensure safety and provide comfort.  However, excellent facilities on their own do not make a good school, neither do elaborate material resources.  A modest science kit within a school, put into good use, is by far more effective than a sophisticatedly equipped but neglected laboratory.  A good school would provide a safe and secure environment with adequate resources and would optimise the effective usage of all resources.

A system defines the modes of operation of an institution, the relations within it, and its relationships with its surrounding environment.  A good school relies on sound educational thought, follows a clear consistent system that incorporates effective management policies, and implements rigorous and coherent methodologies.  A good school system incorporates accountability, embraces progress and provides effective staff development.  A good school system creates awareness of the relevant findings from educational research and particularly in the field of cognitive neuroscience and adjusts itself accordingly.

Many parents are concerned, and justifiably so, about the happiness of their children at school.  There is nothing more disconcerting than an evening at home with a discontent child. So, is a school whose students are happy necessarily a good school?  Unfortunately, learning is not always fun; effort is necessary and hard work is not always pleasant.  A good school should definitely try to motivate all its students and create happiness. A good school has a well-disciplined environment that provides emotional safety and protects the interests of students and staff.  A good school provides a well-disciplined atmosphere and promotes tolerance, fairness, objectivity and other good moral and civic values.  A good school is not one whose main aim is to appease, but rather one that earnestly promotes what is actually in the interest of the child and the community, irrespective of whether or not this may lead to some loss of popularity.

Good education demands dramatic efforts on behalf of teachers and administrators.  A good school should try to provide a pleasant atmosphere and job satisfaction for its staff, but definitely not at the expense of the child.  A good school should hold everyone accountable for their work, and should deal fairly with conflicts and issues of dispute.  In an educational system that adopts accountability and quality assurance policies, there is bound to be some discontent in spite of the efforts of the administration to provide support, guidance and decent working conditions for all staff.

Schools must educate students for living a healthy and responsible life within a spirit of community and service to others. This involves providing opportunities at school for students to participate and lead academic, social and creative pursuits where the needs of all are considered and catered for.  Student leadership in school life activities builds experience for responsible adulthood and citizenship.  Involving the students in the learning process is one of the characteristics of a good school. Such involvement should utilise the immense power of the social nature of children and direct peer pressure to become a constructive parameter.

Knowledge preparation is done in phases and at stages.  Frequently a stage relies on some preceding stage; and proceeding from one stage to the next without securing and fortifying the basis, jeopardises the whole learning process and endangers the child’s future.  Students mainly drop out of school or fail after developing detrimental gaps in their knowledge and skills because their schools neglect continuous objective assessment.  A good school adopts continuous valid and reliable assessment of student progress and systematically and promptly takes effective measures that secure proper skill acquisition and learning.

Educational authorities and decision makers need to be very careful with the policies and requirements that they adopt.  There are educational beliefs, theories and practices that have become so common to the extent that it does not occur even to specialists to question them.  Many such modes are wasting precious administrator time and are causing other harmful outcomes at all levels.  The expectations from a good school need to be addressed very methodologically and need to be continuously scrutinised and revised so that educational institutions may play an effective role in social progress and help nations sustain development.

 

Saad B. Abou-Chakra