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Author Deborah Eyre. Posted on 1-April-2016

How do you create a world class school? What are the characteristics of these schools and how do staff work together to achieve such outstanding results? Learn more from internationally renowned leading academic, Professor Deborah Eyre, founder and of High Performance Learning and published author of High Performance Learning: How To Become A World Class School.

When you take a look at the best schools in the world, you notice that they are all unique, but they also have some underlying factors in common. If we want more schools to become as good as the best then it’s helpful to take a look at these common characteristics.



World class schools meet all the traditional requirements for good schools. Many of us are already familiar with the characteristics of good schools. School Improvement type templates exist in many parts of the world. They set out the requirements and tell schools how to achieve competence in each area. These areas include good leadership and management, effective teaching and learning, a focus on academic achievement, and on children’s welfare and happiness. All of this is positive, but considerable evidence suggests that this kind of model produces competent schools and not great schools. World class schools do this and more.

The route to success

The key characteristic of School Improvement is that it mandates from the centre. It is paternalistic, like using a Sat Nav. It determines the route to the destination and gives the driver no choice or autonomy. That’s why it only leads to good and doesn’t lead to greatness. As Joel Klien so famously put it:

“You can mandate awful to adequate but you cannot mandate greatness; it has to be unleashed”. (Barber et al 20151)

The difference between good schools and world class schools is that in a world class school the school leaders, governors and professionalized teachers are taking the reins and building their own individual vision. They are interpreting their own needs. Unleashed schools have achieved good and are now using a map to get to great.

A map is different from Sat Nav in that it gives you all the information and then requires you to take the initiative and plot your optimal route to reach your destination. That is what the very best schools do. They create a unique solution that builds on the best available evidence but is tailored to fit their curriculum, their context and their community. The entire organization works as a team to deliver excellence and they have a meticulously-structured process that enables them to achieve outstanding student results every year. They don’t just drift. They are thinking schools and they are ambitious.

At their core all the best schools are student centred and commit to delivering the following:

icon 16x16  Everyone in the school, regardless of background or starting point, achieves the highest academic standards

icon 16x16 Students equipped with the values, attitudes and attributes that will serve them well in university, the workplace and their life

icon 16x16 The school delivering this outcome consistently year after year regardless of changes to context or circumstances.

This is a challenging agenda and may not yet be fully realized. However, in world class schools, a vision isn’t an aspiration, it’s a possible reality that might be out of sight right now but it should not be out of reach. Great schools move measurably closer to their stated vision year on year. They hold themselves accountable and are demanding of themselves.

If we want more schools to become world class then the task right now is to help good schools plot their own journey, giving them more of the information and frameworks that would help them make this a reality. Not a specified program to follow but rather a lens through which to view their school and identify their unique vision plus frameworks which provide a scaffold and significant room to customize for context.

If you want to move beyond good and become world class then maybe a good starting point is to self-evaluate and ask “How close is our school to demonstrating the common characteristics of world class schools?”

Find out more from the diagram below:

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About the author – Professor Deborah Eyre

Deborah is a global educational leader, academic researcher, writer and influencer. Her specialist area is advanced cognitive performance – how to move school academic standards from good to great and at the same time provide an engaging experience for the student and prepare them for effective post school careers. She is also the founder of High Performance Learning which focuses on working with a school on a framework to help them achieve pupil performance goals.

She has held a variety of senior executive roles both globally and in UK as well as advising governments and educational foundations in the UK, Hong Kong, South Africa, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, USA, and Singapore. Deborah has just published her new book; High Performance Learning: How to Build World School schools.

High Performance Learning helps schools move from good to world class by focusing on pedagogy and helping students develop the competencies they need for academic, workplace and lifetime success. www.highperformancelearning.co.uk


1Barber, M., Rodriguez, N., Artis, E. (2015) Deliverology in Practice: How Education Leaders are Improving Student Outcomes. New York: Corwyn.

(This article was first published on the Teachers Media website)