From School Inspections to School Improvement

In a conference in Dubai this week, school leaders, teacher leaders, government officials, and inspection bureau heads spent the day knowledge sharing following feedback from three years of school inspections and results from international assessments (PISA & TIMSS). It is noteworthy that the schools involved were from the 151 private schools offering 13 different curricula to over 207,500 students.

The diversity of programs, national examinations, accreditation processes did not phase the Dubai-based participants who were focused on teaching and leadership practices, learning outcomes, student engagement, appropriate use of technology, and a number of other common elements that cross organizational and linguistic boundaries.

The fascinating feature of the day was how school inspections were an integral part of the conversation motivating this group of educators to network and talk about the core issues of schools in Dubai. But it should not be surprising given the recent results released by a group of researchers in Europe trying to determine if school inspections have an impact on school improvement. The results from this study indicate that the bridge that moves schools from school inspections to school improvement is improved Self-Evaluation.

Combine this finding with the findings from a series of studies that show the benefits of network learning communities, and there is a model that emerges on the use of assessment for improvement.

When educators work together in network learning communities using class and school data, teachers change their classroom practices and help students learn and attain higher achievement.

The model offered below is a simple model that includes 4 parts.

  1. Formative Assessment: This is when educators use classroom and school data to monitor and improve their practices regularly
  2. Summative Assessment: This is when independent professionals use standardized instruments (school inspections and national tests) to assess (and evaluate) the schools
  3. School Improvement: This is when there are changes in practices that result in improved student learning and achievement.
  4. Knowledge Sharing & Creation: This is when educators make sense of the formative and summative assessment results, and absorb it into their thinking to alter practices for improved teaching and learning .


As demonstrated in practice at the What Works conference this week, there is a concept that consistently surfaces as a key to making sustainable improvement to education: knowledge management.

  • It is at the heart of Elmore’s concept of internal accountability where he offers that no external accountability scheme can be effective (including school inspections) in the absence of internal-to-the-school accountability
  • It is at the heart of the success of networks of learning communities, professional learning communities, and communities of practice
  • It is the at the heart of improving organizational management for sustained increases in performance

In all these cases, the role of the formal leader is highlighted because these are the individuals who are responsible for being knowledge leaders rather than operational managers.

The model illustrated above promotes sustainable school improvement and requires educational leaders to:

  • Encourage and motivate others by creating conditions for job-embedded learning
  • Set & monitor agendas to keep efforts aligned with a shared focus
  • Share leadership by empowering others and allowing for the multidirectional flow of knowledge
  • Provide support for building capacity at the individual, relational, and organizational levels

So how are we supporting our educational leaders to move schools from inspections to improvement?


3 thoughts on “From School Inspections to School Improvement

  1. I think this is an important post. I often talk about “moving from great ideas to good practice” in education, identifying teachers as the ultimate arbiters of whether and how well innovation transfers into classroom instruction and learning. One national reform or innovation becomes 10,000 reforms or innovations when placed into the hands of 10,000 teachers. While systems tend to try to control and minimize this diversity by imposing uniformity, or homogeneity – with curriculum, texts, pedagogy, assessment,… -, it is more realistic, and more productive, to cultivate this diversity. Putting teachers as a group of local peers in charge of this process is not just effective, but necessary and, in reality, the only truly viable option. You ask how. In Morocco, I led a USAID-funded project in which we used school- and cluster-based “Sharing, Deepening and Revision Workshops” to bring teachers together, often with inspectors and other advisors, on a regular basis to assess their collective and respective practices and results in the classroom and to discover (then test and validate in an iterative/action-research process) “solutions” to their shared and individual challenges. I am now supporting colleagues in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kenya and Uganda to do the same. In Morocco, the outcomes in terms of teacher motivation, improved teaching and greater, more enthusiastic learning (with empirical evidence) were widespread. Initial reports from the other countries appear to be leading to similar results.

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