Review compiled by: Peter Hall
This is a beautiful and captivating read.
The author presents a comprehensive vision of excellence in education, but not just in headline statements or big ideas, but in clearly set out and practical ways to explain how he has found the pursuit of excellence achievable. The opening chapter is a sobering reflection on the road that we’ve travelled down, and the mess we find ourselves in today. The pressures of excessive testing, top-down leadership and our obsession with formal monitoring are laid out clearly.
The author explains how schools ought to be far better considering all the efforts and initiatives that have been put in place. He quickly offers a solution – a school-improving culture (not a proving culture), founded on high levels of trust and shared accountability. Before we’re wondering whether this is possible the author launches into an account of his experiences leading two schools to show how a school can be changed, how an ethos of improvement can be possible – not just by dynamic leadership but by working with all staff at all levels to give a shared commitment so that everyone and everything improves.
The plan of attack is based on a collaborative strategy, but one that focuses on consistency in learning, a connected curriculum, deep feedback, mastery learning and supportive leadership. The narrative and explanations give the reader plenty of examples of how well this approach did work, and questions to the reader encourage us to think about what could be achieved in our context. The author continues to explain in greater detail about the learning environment, how to challenge and change climate and culture and the domains of learning before turning his attention to mastery for learning and assessment.
As a manifesto, this is both thorough but also easy to read. The author’s style is engaging and compelling. We are encouraged along and gently challenged and persuaded with case studies to highlight key features. With a strong chapter about leadership and professional development, the reader is left with a comprehensive model for excellence.
His final paragraph is a call to arms, let me quote just one sentence.
When we teach, lead and interact with moral purpose, we connect our school communities with an ethical cause that has the potential to redefine the boundaries of what we thought was possible.
Rob Carpenter leaves us in no doubt of the awesome potential of what is possible.