John West-Burnham

Educational Leadership Development

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There is a finite limit to the speed of a propeller driven aircraft, the stamina of a Pony express horse and its (teenage) rider and to the speed and capacity of a cargo ship propelled by sail. The answer to the problem of aircraft speed was the jet engine, the problem of communication across the American west was solved by the electric telegraph and railway and the answer to the sailing ship was the steam ship and eventually the container ship, the most recent examples of which can carry over 18,000 containers.     


School improvement, by definition, has tended to focus almost exclusively on improving the school qua school. This is absolutely right and proper but is only part of the story. The best way to improve the health of a community is not to build more hospitals and employ more doctors but rather to prevent disease in the first place e.g. sewers, pure water supplies, wholesome food and a safe environment. Medical interventions are only one element in securing health; schools are only one element in securing educational success and well-being.

One result of the prevailing orthodoxy is that we may be working in the context of diminishing returns – everybody is working harder and the resources are being committed but there is disproportionately limited improvement. For example the OECD Skills Outlook for 2013 found that in England there has been no advance in the test results for literacy between the 55 to 65 year olds and those aged between 16 and 24. In other words over what is effectively a generation literacy has not improved. This is reinforced by the fact that 8.5 million adults in England and Northern Ireland have the numeracy levels of 10 year olds.

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