1. Policy and Practice - Explore your school improvement agenda and school priorities. Decide upon a direction that will shape your ethos. Create your vision.
2. A shared goal - Gain support and buy in from the leadership team at all levels from middle up to governance.
3. Stakeholder buy in - working group of teaching staff/support staff/students to develop and choose your phraseology as the vehicle to deliver and share the ethos.
4. Embed, embed, embed through teaching, training and communicating with all stakeholders regularly throughout the year.
5. Share - Create clear, tangible opportunities to share the ethos for every opportunity (assemblies, parental events, open evenings).
6. Consistency and Transparency - Market your ethos and have visuals around the school, website and social media as a constant reminder of the school's values.
Want to find out more?
Department for Education Research Report (May2018) Sam Baars, Bart Shaw, Ellie Mulcahy and Loic Menzies – LKMco.
International journal of Education, The Effects of School Culture on Students Academic Achievements (2021) Adem Bayar.
Academy of Educational Leadership Journal Volume 27, Special Issue 2, 2023 1 1528-2643-27-S2-004 Citation Information: Starkey, J. (2023). Effective strategies for building and sustaining a positive school culture and climate.
Prefer to watch?
Creating a Culture with Sam Strickland
A professional culture with Kat Scutt
Teacher Talk: The impact of a positive school culture on school improvement and student attainment
The impact of a positive school culture on school improvement and student attainment: TeacherTalk
With Laura Bartoletti, Assistant Headteacher for Pastoral Care at Putteridge High School
Culture and ethos is undoubtedly a determining element of school improvement and experience for teachers and students alike. Leaders in education, The DfE/OFSTED, all agree on its importance within the education system. The expectation for a school to have a clear, developed and well embedded culture and ethos, is increasing rapidly. Culture and ethos is becoming a core factor when assessing the success of a school and school improvement; It’s a fundamental cornerstone of the Headteacher and teacher standards and all leaders within education will seek out, explore and feel a school's culture and ethos. So, what does a developed culture and ethos within a school look and feel like?
The reality is, it’s quite difficult to define because it will look and feel different depending on the school. As this is a key factor - the culture and ethos will be unique to each school and its context, students and community. Many feel that a school’s culture is the manifestation of the Headteacher’s values, morals and ethos (Sam Strickland:2023). Despite the difficulty to define school culture, when it is executed correctly, it's extremely powerful and the first thing you will feel when entering a school building.
Despite the differences, within all school cultures, we can pin down some common themes that shape a positive school culture to help us define and understand it.
- A set of shared beliefs, routines, norms and traditions
- A consistent, clear vision shared and displayed by the headteacher, senior leaders and all staff.
- High expectations and values that shape how people behave within a school to ensure everyone is safe
- A clear culture thread that runs through the school whereby the school's values and beliefs are visible.
With these common culture themes in mind, creating a clear and well embedded culture that is not ephemeral, is challenging and takes time to develop, teach and accomplish.
Does culture impact attainment?
When a school culture is executed, embedded and established within a school, research shows that it will impact attainment. A positive school culture will drive basic standards within a school and influence behaviour for learning, attendance, punctuality and high aspirations. Research, by The International Journal of Education (2021) found that “Culture at school has importance on the academic achievement of students in terms of motivation, sense of competition and development in all respects, both social and physical. Students expressed that the above-mentioned factors affect their academic achievements in a positive way.” The article further states that “When the literature related to school culture, positive and strong school culture and academic achievement are examined, it is seen that similar results have also been obtained in other studies carried out in such fields. It can be said literally in this research that the culture of a school is effective on the academic achievements of students at the school in question.”
Furthermore, the Department for Education is particularly interested in the impact of positive school culture and ethos on the attainment of disadvantaged students. Research conducted for the DfE, by Baars et al, explored its findings to support the suggestion that a positive school culture impacts attainment of disadvantaged students stating that: “Staff in high-performing schools in relation to student attainment were strikingly consistent in the way their ethos, aim, vision or purpose was articulated showing that culture helps to reverse the Matthew Effect. This was not the case in lower-performing schools where schools’ vision or purpose was often vaguely expressed, or differed between staff members.”
As a result, research and professional judgement would suggest that if you have a well embedded, clear, visionary, consistent and well implemented ethos and culture, attainment will increase. Why - because a positive culture changes behaviour. It enables teachers to teach, pupils to learn and the expectations to rise.
As well as benefits for students, research also looks at how school culture and ethos impacts staff wellbeing in a positive way by promoting a sense of support (through a shared vision) and community. So how do you get everyone in a school, all stakeholders, on board the same culture developmental journey?
Development and implementation of a positive school culture
When I think about school culture and what it means to me as a teacher and school leader, I find myself coming back to the same intended outcomes of well implemented school culture.
- Developing student autonomy over learning behaviours within a classroom to enhance their acquisition of curriculum content and wider learning
- The ability and opportunity for teachers to teach and students to learn
- Safe and positive social behaviours around the school ensuring safety of the school community. Well established routines
- Opportunity to develop character, confidence and SMSC
- A sense of belonging and pride in school (for all stakeholders)
As a vehicle to achieve these intended cultural outcomes a robust plan to kick start the culture journey is necessary:
- Consider what is high on your school improvement agenda - this will shape your ethos and culture development journey.
- Get your leadership team's support - leadership is essential in driving the ethos and culture of a school. Do school leaders at all levels, middle, senior and governance, know and understand the ethos, its intended outcomes and do they model it daily?
- Develop a clear ethos - acronyms, phraseology and simplicity work best as they are easy for students and other stakeholders to remember, understand and articulate. This ethos will be the means in which you share the core values of the school thus driving your intended culture outcomes. This should work hand in hand and link directly to your teaching and learning pedagogy within the school
- Teach and embed your ethos with staff -train staff continuously throughout the year. Constant drip feeding of information, reminders and training on the school ethos should be planned and implemented. Use staff training days, meetings, briefings, teaching tips, staffroom screens.
- Teach and embed your ethos with students - train students through any learning opportunity within form time, assemblies, lesson time, curriculum time, shared language in discussions with staff during their movement around the school.
- Share with other stakeholders- embed the ethos within school policies such as the behaviour and attendance policy. Inform all stakeholders such as parents and governors via written communication and use the agreed shared language when communicating with stakeholders in particular, parents and guardians.
- Market the ethos -clear displays, images, presentation of the chosen phraseology, investment in web design so it is embedded throughout school life visually.
- Revisit the ethos - Is it still applicable year on year? Ethos should develop and change with the direction of the school. Do not be afraid to change and tweak as your school improvement agenda does.
A school with a positive culture
A school with a positive culture will grow, develop and improve year on year, weathering any storm. When a school's culture and practices reflect a clear vision based upon the specificity of the school's improvement journey, basic standards will improve, thus improving progress and attainment of its students. Culture is so crucial that it can also weather the storm Culture and ethos takes time, determination, consistency and persistence to embed but the outcomes for the school are evidently tangible and inclusive of student progress, safety, attainment, staff retention, wellbeing, professional development and a common vision shared by all stakeholders creating a feeling of community and belonging.
CTSH 'Together Towards Excellence'