The Intelligent School


Barbara MacGilchrist, Kate Myers & Jane Reed

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  • About the Authors

    Professor Barbara MacGilchrist is Deputy Director at the Institute of Education, University of London and an Associate Director of the Institute's International School Effectiveness and Improvement Centre (ISEIC). She has been a teacher, a headteacher and a local education authority (LEA) inspector and chief inspector and has substantial experience of professional development and school improvement programmes. In 2003 she was awarded an OBE for her services to the ‘education and professional development …of teachers’. She is the author of Managing Access and Entitlement in Primary Education (Trentham, 1992) and co-author of Planning Matters, (Paul Chapman Publishing, 1995). She has published a wide range of articles for practitioners in professional journals and on the National College for School Leadership website.

    Kate Myers is a Senior Associate of The Leadership for Learning Network at the University of Cambridge; Emeritus Professor University of Keele; and a freelance education consultant. She has been a teacher, an advisory teacher, an inspector, an Associate Director of the International School Effectiveness and Improvement Centre, Institute of Education, and has directed equal opportunities and school improvement projects. Her books include Genderwatch! After the ERA (Cambridge University Press, 1992); School Improvement in Practice: The Schools Make a Difference Project (Falmer Press, 1996); with Louise Stoll No Quick Fixes: Perspectives on Schools in Difficulty (Falmer Press, 1998); Effective School Leaders: How to Evaluate and Improve Your Leadership Potential written with John MacBeath (Financial Times, Prentice Hall, 1999); Whatever Happened to Equal Opportunities in Schools? Gender Equality Initiatives in Education an edited collection published by Open University Press in 2000; and co-editor, with John MacBeath, of the RoutledgeFalmer series ‘What's in it for schools .…’ She is a regular contributor to the Times Education Supplement.

    Jane Reed is a Co-ordinating Director of the International School Effectiveness and Improvement Centre (ISEIC) at the Institute of Education, University of London. Prior to working at the Institute, she was a Senior Advisory Officer for Evaluation and Assessment in Enfield. Her background is in teacher and school development and learning in primary schools. She has been engaged in leading on a wide range of improvement and evaluation projects with schools, LEAs and private partners. Her particular research interest is in enabling pupils and their learning to take a central place at the heart of school improvement. She has published a number of articles for practitioners including: ‘School self evaluation: a process to support pupil and teacher learning’ with Hilary Street (Institute of Education, 2002).


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    Dedicated to our teachers' teachers and our friend and colleague James Learmonth (1939–2003)

    Permission Note

    The authors are grateful for permission to reproduce the following material in this book:

    Everybody Says Don't

    Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim

    @1964, 1973 (renewed) Burthen Music Co Inc, USA

    Warner/Chappell Music Ltd, London W6 8BS

    Reproduced by permission of International Music Publications Ltd

    All Rights Reserved.


    When the first edition of The Intelligent School was published in 1997, I was asked to provide a brief foreword. In this, I expressed a view that the book was particularly relevant in that year. I welcomed the way the authors had drawn together key findings from four related areas of research (school effectiveness, school improvement, learning and teaching). I hoped that this synthesis would prove useful for the many class teachers who were expected to achieve improvements in the performance of their pupils. I also noted that MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed — researchers with solid backgrounds in senior positions in schools and local education authorities — were asserting that teachers, by learning from the good practice identified in the synthesis, would be likely to become active promoters of change.

    The notion that heads and teachers can be active promoters of change may surprise some. As I commented at the time, we have grown too accustomed to seeing them oppressed by external changes, subject to unfair criticism and learning to rely on outside experts or on the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) for evaluation. MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed show that there is an alternative and that it is much healthier for everyone: pupils, parents and teachers, as well as society in general.

    Traditionally, books based on research findings have not proved very popular with teachers. People forget, however, that the teaching profession is relatively new. In the nineteenth century the first entrants to it were either untrained graduates working in public (private) schools or pupil monitors regurgitating the lessons they had recently learned in their elementary schools. Only in recent years have the entry qualifications approached those commonly accepted in other professions. Not surprisingly, therefore, the tradition — so strong in fields such as medicine or law — of keeping up with research reports is undeveloped among teachers. Thankfully, this negative attitude is declining as the number of teachers enrolling in universities for part-time higher degrees and contributing to the literature of good practice illustrates.

    In the first edition of The Intelligent School the authors suggested that the synthesis they had produced was ‘much more than the sum of its parts’. They identified nine intelligences that a school needed to develop. Underpinning their view was the notion that schools are organic and dynamic institutions and that those working in them must develop the power and responsibility to take charge of their own destiny. In 1997 this was fighting talk. Such talk represented a new spirit emerging from the profession. After years of being cowed, it was standing up and fighting for what it believed was important.

    This first edition of The Intelligent School encouraged teachers and all those associated with learning in schools to look to research for ideas and inspiration. The success of the book demonstrates that many practitioners agreed. This second edition pushes the stakes still higher. In doing so, the authors have continued to write clearly and directly. They have again found good ways to relate academic findings to practical experience.

    I congratulate MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed on the success of the first edition. I applaud the inclusion of new material in the second. The addition of two new intelligences to do with operational and systemic intelligence and the use of the nine intelligences to offer a new framework for school improvement extends and develops their argument. The restructuring of the chapters improves the overall coherence of the book. The inclusion of pupils' ideas and comments enrich the practical examples threaded throughout the book.

    In 1997, many in the profession believed that the days of diktat were drawing to an end. What a shock to discover that this was not the case. As someone who has retired, and is no longer involved in the education system, I want to recommend — even more vehemently than when I was working — the close study of this book and I do not mean just by teachers and local education authority officers. Education policy-makers and ministers, especially, might learn a great deal from it.

    MortimorePeterRichmondSeptember 2003


    This book is dedicated to the teachers and pupils with whom we have had the privilege of working. It is the lessons they have taught us that have inspired us to write. Thanks go especially to all those who provided us with practical examples of their work, some of which we have incorporated into the book. Thanks go to the children whose thoughts and ideas we have included. We are also indebted to the many researchers on whose work we have drawn and to Tim Brighouse, Brian Caldwell, Tony Purcell and Lesley Saunders who found the time to read and comment on early drafts, and to Peter Mortimore for writing the foreword to the book. Special thanks and gratitude go to Nikki Carter and in particular Jackie Lee for their commitment, enthusiasm and support in ensuring that the book came to fruition.



    In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. (Hoffer)

    Continuous learning — for everyone — is central to the notion of the intelligent school.


    The Purpose of the Book

    This book has been written for those who have the major responsibility for making schools work, namely classroom teachers and members of staff who have leadership and management responsibilities at whatever level and in whatever type of school. It is a book that may also be of interest to policymakers and to those who work in a support role with schools. Our purpose in writing The Intelligent School is to offer a practical resource to schools to enable them to maximize their improvement efforts. Our aim is to help schools to be intelligent organizations; in other words, the type of school that can synthesize different kinds of knowledge, experience and ideas in order to be confident about current achievements and to have the ability to decide what to do next.

    Three of us have written the book together. Between us we have more than 100 years' experience of working in and with primary, secondary and special schools, local education authorities and academic institutions. The book grew out of a number of concerns that we found we shared:

    • the need to recognize that there is no blueprint for improving schools, rather schools can be enabled to make intelligent, informed decisions about what is likely to work best for them;
    • the need to focus school improvement efforts on the classroom;
    • the need to make research findings more accessible and usable for teachers;
    • the need to support practitioners in making better shared sense of what they are implicitly doing;
    • the need to celebrate and disseminate some of the good practice already going on in schools across the country;
    • the need to make a language of learning and teaching our own.

    We have tried to distil and share some of the knowledge, experience and ideas we have gained from working with both academics and practitioners. We want to enable schools to become more familiar with relevant research and to ask the sorts of questions we often ask ourselves: ‘What do these findings mean for us, particularly on a wet Friday afternoon. In what ways can we use them to help us to become more effective?’ Our review of the research literature is by no means exhaustive. We have chosen research findings that we think are interesting and of considerable importance for practitioners. We have used practical examples provided by schools, local education authorities and education consultants to illustrate some of the different ways in which schools, often intuitively, have put some of the research theory into practice.

    The three of us share a further concern. ‘School improvement’ has become the ‘flavour of the month’. Unfortunately, the media interpretation of this trend, often encouraged by political pronouncements, has been that many state schools are failing and that drastic measures are needed to ‘pull them up by their bootstraps’. This scenario does not match with our experience. We are agreed that, regrettably, there definitely are some schools that for a variety of reasons are seriously failing their pupils, and that in such cases drastic measures are needed. However, as far as the majority of schools are concerned, our experience is that headteachers and their staff are endeavouring to seek ways of continuously improving their effectiveness. As Hopkins, Ainscow and West (1994) have put it: ‘You don't have to be ill to get better.’

    Our experience also tells us that whilst some schools, because of their particular circumstances, are successful at improving themselves with limited external support, many schools are seeking help with their improvement efforts. Such an attitude has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, for example, it means that these schools are receptive to change and want to improve, both of which are important prerequisites for moving forward. On the negative side, however, this can encourage a dependency culture whereby schools seek blueprints or formulae that they can apply in a mechanistic way regardless of their own particular context and culture. This, in turn, encourages external consultants and agencies to offer simplistic solutions to what are often very complex issues.

    Through our work as Associate Directors of the Institute of Education's International School Effectiveness and Improvement Centre, and through Kate's work with the Leadership for Learning Network at the University of Cambridge, we are also only too well aware of the academic debates about the relationship between school effectiveness and school improvement research, and about the dangers of simplistic interpretations of complex research findings. We share these concerns. We also consider that the findings of these two areas of research are not enough in themselves. We believe that learning and teaching are at the heart of school improvement. They are the core business of schools. Therefore, knowledge about the findings of research into both effective learning and effective teaching is also essential. We feel that for a school to work successfully it needs to be able to put the pieces together from these four areas of research in an intelligent way so as to see the connections between them and then to consider, in relation to its own context, the practical implications for the classroom and for the school as a whole.

    This book attempts to address these shared concerns. It aims to inform practitioners of some of the key messages from these four interrelated areas of research and to illustrate, through the use of real examples, a variety of ways in which these findings can be pieced together in a practical way to improve learning and teaching. It also includes real examples of children and teachers at work because we believe that a major way of improving schools is to enable them to share and learn from one another's practice.

    We take a fresh look at schools as organizations and, building on our collective experience, we argue that ‘putting the pieces together’ of school effectiveness and school improvement with learning and teaching is not as simple as it sounds, nor as some people would have us believe. It is certainly not a mechanistic or linear activity. All important is the capacity a school has to use this knowledge. We draw on Gardner's (1983; 1999) notion of multiple intelligence and on recent thinking about the nature of organizations to offer a new way of looking at schools and their capacity to improve. We identify nine intelligences that when used in combination enable a school to have the capacity to achieve its goals successfully. We argue that: ‘the intelligent school is greater than the sum of its parts’ Through the use of its ‘corporate intelligence’ it is in a powerful position to improve its effectiveness. We offer a new framework for school improvement that combines the intelligences in a systemic way.

    The Structure of the Book

    In Chapter 1 we consider the intelligent school in times of change to provide a context for the book. In Chapters 2 and 3 we identify some of the important findings being disseminated from the school effectiveness and the school improvement literature. We emphasize the strengths and the limitations of these findings and argue that they must not be seen as an end in themselves or as sufficient to make schools work effectively. In Chapter 4 we reflect on the nature of learning. We begin with a consideration of some of the different theories about how we learn and about the purpose of learning. We then reflect on what it means to be a learner, the different ways in which learning can take place and on what learners themselves expect from those who teach and work with them. In Chapter 5 we turn our attention to sources of evidence concerned with the characteristics of effective teaching and consider the nature of teaching in relationship with learning. We examine the features of teaching for learning and how teachers manage the process of teaching for learning. We conclude with an exploration of the notion of a learning and teaching PACT to maximize children's learning in the classroom.

    The focus of Chapter 6 is the professional development of teachers, in other words, teachers' own learning. We concentrate on some of the practical ways in which schools provide teachers with opportunities to learn with and from one another ‘on the job’ and from best practice elsewhere. We argue that teachers' learning and pupils' learning are inextricably linked.

    Chapter 7 concerns the school as a whole. The focus is on the title of the book — The Intelligent School. We draw together the themes developed in the previous chapters and translate these into nine different but interdependent intelligences. We describe the characteristics of these intelligences and argue that, when they are used in combination, they enable a school to apply the knowledge and skills it has to maximum effect in classrooms and across the school as a whole. We use the intelligences to offer a new framework for improvement that enables a school to have the capacity to improve. We reflect on the implications of this corporate intelligence for school leaders.

    The final chapter is a postscript in which we consider the notion of intelligent schooling of the future. We raise questions that we believe need to be asked about schooling and suggest possible alternatives for the future.

    How the Book Can be Used

    Our intention is that The Intelligent School can be used by individual teachers, groups of teachers and whole-school staffs. The first chapter provides the context for the book. In the chapters that follow, each ends with some questions for consideration to offer an agenda for discussion and reflection. The questions can be used by individual or groups of teachers or as a catalyst for school-based professional development sessions. The chapter on the nine intelligences provides a framework for the staff as a group to examine their capacity for improvement. We have tried to formulate ideas and questions in such a way as to offer both a challenge and a support to schools in their efforts to make a real difference in terms of the quality of education they provide for their pupils.

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