We all know them: Those minority of schools which for some reason (or combination of reasons) stand out in the collective imagination as ‘top schools’. The ones every other school wants to emulate in some way or another. The ones where the mere mention of having gone there unlocks so many more opportunities.
But what makes a ‘top school’?
- Is it money? Many top schools are private institutions and charge parents huge amounts of money. The revenue generated can be spent on purchasing wonderful equipment, paying top teachers and building snazzy facilities. And this, of course, attracts more wealthy families and the cycle perpetuates itself.
- How about academic achievement? Surely the top schools also always have the best results?
- Perhaps it is the age of the school? Top schools almost always have long histories and associated feelings of gravitas and tradition.
- Maybe it is the use of technology and other twenty-first century education techniques? (Or maybe it’s the exact opposite: the refusal to get involved in any of this new-fangled stuff?)
- Is it arrogance? The pure fact that everyone at these schools just assumes that they’re better – and this becomes a self-fulfilling assumption.
- Or perhaps it is the sporting and cultural achievements of top schools’ students?
- Or maybe it’s size? Top schools always seem so big. Yet they manage to keep the number of students small.
It might be any of these factors or all of them. But to my way of thinking, a truly excellent school isn’t based on any of these. For me, a top school is one that has a happy, dynamic, motivated and professionally dedicated team of teachers. And this, in turn, leads to happy, confident and motivated students.
So if you are a parent and you want to send your kid to a top school, spend a day there. Look beyond the ivy-covered buildings, ignore the prospectus and the pictures of famous alumni. Visit the staff room and peer into the classrooms.
If there’s lot of noise and smiling going on, you’re in the right place.