"Schools in challenging conditions“ – development potential and need for support
News from Nov 15, 2012
How can schools work efficiently despite facing challenging circumstances? Which measures of school management and instruction support so called high-risk schools in improving their classroom and school quality and thus in achieving successful student outcomes? While there is a long tradition of research focusing on these topics in the UK and the USA, in Germany there are yet only few insights with regard to improving education in urban high-risk areas.
The SteBis workshop “schools in challenging conditions – development potential and need for support” held on 9 November 2012, brought together about 120 stakeholders from educational practice, administration and policy, as well as from the areas of school improvement consulting and teacher education, to discuss conditions for success and development opportunities for schools in deprived urban areas with the SteBis scientists.During this discussion, the scientists particularly emphasized the role of school management, who could improve schools systematically and purposefully for example by using evaluation data. “In this regard it is particularly important to involve staff early in order to establish a culture of participation and responsibility” stressed Isabell van Ackeren. It was also important to compensate the social disadvantage of students through different offers integrated into the routine at school. This could constitute a structured daily routine, the offer of regular nutrition, or emotional support and collaborative extracurricular activities for students and educators. According to the scientists, classroom successes are due to teachers creating an atmosphere that is free of anxiety and thus supports learning. This could be achieved for example through a positive and student-oriented approach that takes account of diverse cultural backgrounds, or even the simple provision of spare materials for students that come to class without their school books.
Presentation Prof. Dr. van Ackeren
Presentation Prof. Dr. Pfaff
Nicolle Pfaff sees opportunities for improving school efficiency for example in a closer cooperation within schools, or also with external partners. By this means teachers could be supported with regard to their lessons plans, or they would be able to combine their efforts with other school professionals (e.g. special needs teachers, social workers) in order to achieve mutual education outcomes. The cooperation with external institutions such as youth welfare services, teacher education or security services would be particularly useful if it addressed staff shortages (e.g. through volunteers or not fully qualified employees) or contributed to solving disciplinary problems within schools. However, a condition for success would be that these cooperative arrangements were developed by the schools themselves.
In the closing panel discussion, which was attended by the secretary of the state for education, Mark Rackles, and the head of the union for principals, Paul Schuknecht, it was concluded that schools in challenging conditions need a strong school management and particularly committed staff. In addition, educational policy was to ensure that legal and economic framework conditions would be further adapted to support the needs of those schools. The discussion covered potential measures that could be employed by schools to enable self-reliant improvement when needed, by making use of their autonomy regarding finances and personnel. These measures included the employment of additional professionals for example from youth welfare services, the capitalization on vacant positions, as well as more controversial topics, such as incentives for teachers.