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Pathways to Excellence: EduQuality school leaders make strides towards improvement across 18 domains of school quality

By Natalie Davirro

Opportunity EduFinance has published a new report: Pathways to Excellence: Assessing EduQuality school progress in quality improvements, which uses data collected from more than 200 schools and reveals that EduQuality school leaders are successfully improving their school quality across 18 different areas. Pathways to Excellence – which aims to train and empower school leaders around 18 domains of school quality – is having a powerful impact on school leaders, who continue to make strides towards improving their school culture, school management, and teaching and learning practices.

Pathways to Excellence: Empowering School Leaders with the Right Tools

School leaders play an integral role in creating a school environment and culture that is conducive to learning. A strong school management can improve teacher motivation and retention, engage parents, and ultimately empower the entire school community. In many contexts however, especially low-resource environments or isolated settings, school leaders may not fully understand what education ‘quality’ consists of, and they may lack clear direction, guidance, and tools to help them improve. When school leaders do receive support – such as in developing school improvement plans, goal-setting, and assessing progress – this has powerful impacts on student learning.

The EduQuality approach is grounded in recognizing the importance of school leaders. The approach begins with engaging school leaders, as it understands that a strong school leadership is the foundation upon which its other activities – such as teacher mentor training – can build from.

The Pathways to Excellence (P2E) guide was designed as a key component of EduQuality. The guide aims to address challenges in school quality by equipping school leaders with the tools necessary to assess and improve their school’s progress. P2E was designed in collaboration with international education experts to be a guide for school leaders to self-diagnose their school quality using 18 measurable indicators. P2E covers topics like school culture, school environment, teaching practices, teacher professional development, school management, child-centered learning, behavior management, and child protection. Ultimately, it realizes that when school leaders commit to continued progress in these key areas, they can create a school environment that is most conducive to learning.


Measuring School Improvements

The EduFinance Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) team continuously collects school-level quality data through a range of data collection tools, including surveys with school leaders, classroom observations, school profile data, and self-assessments in which school leaders are asked to rank their own schools on a scale of 1-4. The recent report on Pathways to Excellence combines all five of these data sources to understand the improvements EduQuality schools have made between Year 1 of the EduQuality program and Year 2, across all 18 domains. Comparing this data over the years, for more than 200 EduQuality schools in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia, has given insight into the improvements schools are making, and the domains of school quality they are still struggling to implement.

School Leaders are Finding Numerous Ways to Improve School Culture

The first area of P2E supports school leaders in developing a strong school culture that prioritizes parents, community, and staff engagement, child protection, and inclusion. Between Year 1 and 2, schools improved their school culture in numerous ways. Key findings around improvements in school culture include:

  • Behaviour management: In Year 2, 76% of schools had a written Behaviour Management Plan, up from 64% in Year 1.
  • Parental engagement: 95% of school leaders report active parental involvement in wider school life. More than 74% of schools have a parent-teacher association (PTA), and most PTAs actively support school leaders by offering recommendations.
  • Child protection: More than 80% of schools now have physical protection structures in place, including fences and boundary walls around the school. This has increased by more than 15 percentage points from Year 1.
  • Staff retention: In Year 2, 97% of schools had ways of evaluating staff satisfaction with their jobs (either informally or formally), up from 93% in Year 1.

Across all six domains, school leaders show improved knowledge and understanding and maintain positive attitudes towards each domain, representing a critical first step. However, implementing actual changes in practice in Child Protection and Inclusion & Special Education Needs (SEND) remains challenging. Despite increased knowledge in both domains, only 53% of schools have a written child protection policy, and 60% of schools believe that including children with SEND in instruction is ‘very challenging.’

School Management Practices Emphasize School Governance and Teacher Engagement – A Positive Development

The second area of P2E supports school leaders in strengthening school management practices, including by improving teacher recruitment, development, and oversight, and financial and business management. Improved school management practices have been shown to have significant positive impacts on student learning – especially when school leaders devote time and resources towards empowering their teachers – an area which EduQuality school leaders have continued to prioritize:

  • Teacher recruitment: Schools are continuing to recruit qualified teachers, with over 80% of schools checking teaching qualifications via employer references, reference letters, and other methods. 83% of schools have seen an increase in the number of job applications, which helps recruit qualified teachers by increasing competition.
  • School governance: In Year 2, 97% of schools seek opinions from staff every term when developing school processes or operations, up from 81% in Year 1.
  • Financial management: Schools are meeting expectations in their financial management practices, with more than 90% of schools now creating annual budgets.
  • Teacher development and oversight: In Year 2, 95% of schools provide professional development support to the staff, up from 86% in Year 1. More than 87% of school leaders also hold one-on-one annual performance reviews with teachers.

Use of feedback and accountability mechanisms is increasing, but not fully integrated yet. Data revealed that schools use a variety of feedback mechanisms, including inviting external accountants to review finances (38%), involving an external governing board (46%), and reporting school results to outside entities such as parents (26%). However, despite the range of accountability mechanisms being employed, less than half of schools are using each of these methods, representing an area for further engagement.  

Strong School Leaders and Teacher Mentors Lead to Steady Improvements in the Classroom

The third area of P2E supports schools in strengthening teaching and learning practices. Overall, changes in teaching practice have been positive, especially with regard to teachers placing lessons within the curriculum, and utilizing the results from student assessments to adjust teaching. Key findings around teaching and learning include:

  • Lesson-planning: While teachers are making strong improvements in this area, based on classroom observations, less than half of teachers were observed to use a lesson plan. In Year 2, 43% of teachers were observed to have a lesson plan, representing an increase of 21 percentage points from Year 1.
  • Assessment of learning: Based on classroom observations, 87% of classes observed obtained a high or medium Checks for Understanding score in Year 2, compared to 74% in Year 1.
  • Learner-centered teaching: In Year 2, 83% of teachers are now situating the lesson in the context of the curriculum, an increase from 66% in Year 2. This large increase of 17 percentage points demonstrates a strong improvement by teachers in this area.

Comparisons between Year 1 and Year 2 classroom observations revealed that teachers are making steady improvements in several areas including lesson planning, learner assessment, and learner-centered teaching – all of which are critical factors to improving student learning. Despite strong progress, there are still gaps – with more than half of teachers lacking a lesson plan, and only half of teachers able to connect the lesson to real-life experiences. While teachers are still facing challenges, school leaders’ commitment to empowering teachers through professional development and mentoring will continue to translate into tangible improvements in the classroom as EduQuality schools progress into their final year.

Looking Ahead: The Path to Improved Learning

Sustainably improving learning outcomes in under-resourced schools is often a multi-step process that begins with changing practices and behaviors of school leaders and teachers before any evidence of impact can be seen in students. Measuring improvements from P2E focuses on measuring the achievement of medium-term outcomes, with the intention of using these intermediate steps to inform progress towards the goal of long-term learning outcomes improvements. These medium-term outcomes include quality school management practices, access to learning materials, safe and inclusive classroom environments, and student-centered teaching – all of which contribute to whether a child learns once in school. The P2E report highlights the signs of improvement across these areas.

Looking ahead, Opportunity EduFinance aims to use these insights – including gaps in quality and key opportunities for further improvement – to inform how the EduQuality program can adapt, emphasize, and support leaders and teachers. In the coming years, the findings from this analysis will benefit the current cohort of schools that were surveyed, as they end the third year and final year of the program, and also be leveraged to iterate the program with current cohorts that have recently joined, and future cohorts of schools.

Read the full report here

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