Identifying Excellence

22 September 2017 | Youth

Like human beings, schools have different characters; but also like human beings, there is an identifiable set of characteristics which raises an excellent school over and beyond good schools.

An excellent school holds consistent, high expectations and is very ambitious for the success of its pupils. Signs of success will be seen in many ways. St Paul’s national examination results are one measure, but success in the final year is built on a culture of consistent recognition of effort and achievement. It is vital to ensure, throughout a student’s high school career, that they have a solid foundation and understanding of their work.
Furthermore, the school constantly demonstrates that disadvantage need not be a barrier to achievement. Failure is not seen as a defining quality. Instead, children are encouraged to believe that mistakes are a vital part of the learning process, and the willingness to evaluate why something was a mistake is where learning takes place. We encourage children to have the courage to persevere. Accordingly, a student’s mastery of a subject or aspect of work with which they had previously experienced difficulty is always greatly praised.
An excellent school is robust and rigorous in terms of self-evaluation and data analysis with clear strategies for improvement. St Paul’s collects a wealth of data about the way the school is managed and we seek opinions from others such as the Independent Quality Assurance Association, run through the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa, to ensure a high standard.
Moreover, the school focuses relentlessly on improving teaching and learning. It spends time examining itself and seeking ever more successful strategies. St Paul’s encourages staff to reflect on their practice through subject meetings and by attending training sessions. Teachers constantly aim to improve their standard of teaching. They are eager to try new, innovative ways to teach students and keep lessons interesting. One pupil commented, “I really enjoy teachers who find new ways to challenge us because it allows us to develop and improve different ways of thinking and gives us a chance to look at the material we learn in new, absorbing ways.”
A school with an excellent standard is expert at assessment and tracks pupil development. We use our regular testing to inform students, parents and teachers of the progress a student makes. Every student’s progress is also presented on the school’s student and parents’ portal, enabling parents and pupils alike to monitor progress at any given time. Students see where they stand in terms of their academic performance and can asses which areas of their learning need more attention. Such regular tracking also ensures that students will know, in advance, which work they should focus on when studying for a big test or examination. It gives them time to consult teachers about concepts they struggle with.
An excellent school has complete regard for both the academic and personal development of each pupil. Heads of Grades in the High School continuously monitor academic and personal well-being. Students in the High School may approach the Guidance Counsellor to discuss their concerns. The members of the Student Management Council (SMC) are also willing to advise and aid the students of the school. This is essential as many students may feel more comfortable speaking to people of their own age.
St. Paul’s develops individual students through promoting rich opportunities for learning both in and out of the classroom. Our school runs a wealth of sports, cultural and outreach programmes. Students become well-rounded and gain new perspectives on the world around them. St Paul’s teachers commit time in the afternoons to supervise countless activities and sacrifice weekends and holiday time to accompany pupils on school trips and tours. Additionally, students are given the opportunity to be leaders in the SMC. Voted for democratically, the SMC members act as the bridge between students and teachers and represent the student body at senior management meetings. Our pupils are given a voice.
Finally, one can tell an excellent school apart from good schools by observing its students. When you go into an excellent school, you see students engaged in their studies. You hear the hum of purposeful activity in a classroom or the excited noise of happy children during a break time. You are met with young men and women who are courteous, have great ambition and the will to achieve their goals.

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