I have been doing my work experience with Barbara and Chris, who work in the children, schools and families (CSF) department at Camden Council.
They asked me to write about what makes a ‘best school’. Camden has a plan, called the Camden plan, which says all the things they want to achieve between now and 2017. One of the things they want is for Camden to have the best schools in the country.
I wrote interview questions and then organised interviews, some on the phone and some face to face. I then spoke to a range of people, some of whom work for the Council and some from the community – including parents and students from two local secondary schools. Everyone was asked the same questions; below is a summary of their responses.
1. What do you think makes a best school (secondary or primary)?
- Teaching staff have to feel positive about their work, and the students have to feel respected.
- Good teachers, facilities and equipment. I liked my school because the area was good and so were the pupils.
- Good teachers and lots of extra-curricular activities, before and after school.
- Mixture of good teachers and ‘driven’ young people.
- A diverse range of cultures and people.
- Longer breaks for students at lunch and between lessons (shorter lessons).
- Has to be a good environment for both the teachers and the students.
- Caring teachers and good facilities.
2. What don’t you like about schools nowadays?
- Back then, it used to be hard to get excluded and now it’s much easier. There are a lot more distractions, such as mobile phones social media.
- Some teachers favour the subject more than the students.
- The teacher is being judged by everyone all the time and I also feel the students have too many tests and not enough fun.
- Too many opportunities for young people’s bad behaviour - not always discouraged like it should be.
- Seem to be making things harder for people – workload is too much for students and teachers.
- The teachers don’t make enough lessons interesting – too many classes are boring.
- Some felt the students are allowed to do what they want but others thought the opposite, i.e. timetables are too rigid and teachers are too strict and old fashioned.
3. What did you like best about your school?
- One Council worker said he liked his friends at school and had very good memories of that school. He said there were three teachers that really made an impact on him and who he’d like to get in touch with again to say thanks for what they did.
- Another member of the Council staff liked where her school (Parliament Hill) was because it was near a park. She also liked the teachers because they were good at teaching.
- The performing arts department was good.
- Supportive friends and classmates, as well as good facilities.
- Good lunchtime and after-school clubs.
- Good teachers, classmates and you could wear your own clothes (no uniform).
- Physical Education and some nice teachers. Socialising.
4. How would you like to change the things that didn’t / don’t work?
- Offer more support for individual students. More work to stop bullying. More support for shy students.
- Teachers need to be valued more because the job is very hard. Schools should not be judged just on their results but also how happy the students are.
- Less paperwork and more face to face work.
- More opportunities for students and staff.
- Change the rules / put in more rules!
- Would like to see more teachers that can relate to the students better.
- More activities before and after school and youth clubs in schools.
5. What type of feedback did you get from your teachers and was it positive or negative?
- Mostly negative reports, with occasional positive feedback over little stuff.
- Mostly positive but teachers complained about my chatter.
- I always had an opinion that could spark arguments or discussion. I was a positive student.
- Mostly positive. But some negatives - some teachers really didn’t like me.
- Mostly positive, sometimes negative.
- Positive feedback most of the time but sometimes negative.
- A bit of both but always told to try harder.
- Always someone there to listen to your concerns.
So what makes a good school?
The survey shows most people think teachers have the biggest impact if they are positive - then learning becomes more interesting. People thought that teachers were the best thing about their school.
Otherwise, facilities, equipment and a good environment were areas that people in the survey thought were important. After-school clubs and extra-curricular activities before and after school also make a school ‘the best’.
Rizwan Rajabi, William Ellis School