Should You Buy That School?
The appetite for investment in schools worldwide seems unabated. But should you buy that school?
There are five key elements that should be used to gauge the viability of a school purchase. Financial Position, Education Management, Market Growth Potential, Facilities and Valuation. Should you buy that school? We will share our key criteria and measures over the following series of 5 blog posts to help you narrow down the field.
There are countless studies and research that can be reviewed about what makes a school effective. Although the debates are wide and varied the focus always ends around teacher quality and management quality. We would argue that education management quality is the number one factor that determines success because it is this team that will harness the skills and talents of great teachers and truly make a difference. Excellent management finds great teachers and keeps them. They manage the work environment and all other aspects of school operations. Should you buy that school based on education management?
The quality and effectiveness of school management is best determined by a comprehensive school audit or review but in summary we believe the following 8 essentials are valuable criteria:
Clear and Shared Focus/Mission
The vision and mission espoused by the school should reflect the same values reflected by operational behaviours. Schools, through marketing brochures, artefacts and decoration will claim similar values such as being “international-minded”, “holistic”, “caring”, “innovative” etc but the trick for you as an outsider is to cut through the spin and find out if they truly do that. What is it? Do they understand it? Do they do it? The key is to listen clearly to every answer and determine whether the behaviours of all stakeholders are underpinned by such values. We like to frame decision making processes by guided questions such as “will this new initiative, idea or project help us achieve a goal of being more innovative.” Or, when we approach operational challenges ” are we approaching this problem, and the solution, in ways that demonstrate our ability to be “innovative.” Ask specific questions but try to get a “sense” that behaviours, tone and climate reflect the values claimed by the school.
High Standards and Expectations For All Teachers and Students
Education pathways should be focussed on “distance travelled.” It should be clear that no student is anonymous and that there is a commitment to helping ALL children gradually improve. High standards don’t only reflect elite excellence. Moving a child from a “C” to a “B” is just as important as a “B” to an “A.” Similarly school is not only about grades. All behaviours should reflect high standards including both students AND staff in and out of the classroom. A tyrant Principal might claim to demand high standards but clearly demonstrate poor interpersonal behaviours and standards of decorum that are marginal. Authenticity is important. Standards of achieving that, including integrity, honesty and truthfulness are also important.
Effective School Leadership
Great leadership is about executing the schools vision and setting the tone and the culture for the school in ways that are inspiring, principled and effective.
Leadership should be as much about influence as it is about doing things well. The leader is charged with influencing a large group of people to become aligned to high standards of behaviour as well as outcomes. That takes many and varied skills.
Effective leadership shines not only when things are going well, but even more so when the school, or people, are facing challenges.. They’re respected and not feared. They motivate people to work harder and make significant contributions to the whole community.
You will sense this in your first meeting but confirm it in your 3rd or 4th. You will also confirm it during your interactions with members of the school community in how they describe leadership, decision making and the strategic direction of the school. Strong education management will make the most difference.
High Levels of Collaboration, Communication and Professional Development
How are decisions made? How do people communicate? What do the interactions look like between stakeholders? How much time and energy is invested in developing and improving people. What systems are in place across the organisation that reflect this? There are many questions that can be asked to help you determine this and the style of answers shared will confirm, or discount, a school climate that values the contributions and collaborations of its stakeholders.
Rigorous Curriculum and Instruction
Curriculum is not rigorous just by nature of the textbooks or exams delivered or the licensing or accreditation on the door. Rigour implies reaching for a higher level of quality in both effort and outcome. A rigorous curriculum has clear learning outcomes with matching assessments. Schools should have engaging learning experiences and instructional strategies that are scaffolded or backward mapped “with the end in mind.” There must be a belief, matched by behaviours, that all children can succeed. There must be a high sense of quality in terms of delivery by instructional leaders who are well qualified and committed. An assumption that school licensing and accreditation achieves this is false. It is the ongoing commitment to these licensing and accreditation standards and a mission and vision for high standards that achieves rigour.
Regular and Consistent Monitoring of Learning and Teaching as well as the Accountability of Results
Clearly knowing and understanding what you are measuring is important. In schools it is essential that very clear systems are in place to analyse data in meaningful ways, then to use that data to influence practice. What is data? Well of course, it includes academic results but it also includes all the information we have about teaching and learning. A school should have systems in place to monitor and evaluate teacher performance. Information should be recorded and this data should be used to guide practice and influence ongoing support for teachers. Accountability does not have to mean “being tough.” It can mean aligning all systems and understanding what matters in the pathway that begins at home, continues through the classroom with teachers, and ends with an excellent result. We can influence the significant levers in positive ways along every step of the way.
Supportive Learning Environment
In a genuinely supportive learning environment, every student feels valued, included, and empowered. This doesn’t happen by accident. It is influenced by the shared focus and mission of the school and it will be reflected in the behaviours of all members of the school community.
Each student needs to know that their own personal story matters. For teachers, this means listening, and taking the time. Teachers will know where their students have come from, where they are now, and where they want to head in the future. Students will not feel anonymous. They will feel like their relationships and learning is personalised for them.
We can understand the degree to which this happens by talking to both the teachers and the students.
High Levels of Family and Community Involvement
Collaboration between parents and teachers is invaluable. School management should seem approachable and connected and genuinely value the involvement by family and community in the school. Involvement does not mean merely attendance. It should mean engagement and collaboration. So many times, parents do not feel as welcome as the signs at the entrance might profess. Parents will feel welcome when their ideas, input and contributions are taken up as an essential part of the school management philosophy.
What did you find?
You need to evaluate the quality of existing management and also review the history of management to this point in time. Is the organisational structure, leadership philosophy and management model effective?
Has there been a turn over in senior leaders? Why, why not? Will you retain or replace existing management systems? (people or structures) Is the current organisational structure working effectively and what are the levers for change that might make a difference? It is important to understand that the school must have a vision beyond the life of its current leaders. That might seem cold but your business plan cannot depend too much on only 1-2 key people. Where will the school be in 10-15 years and will the current management model achieve your goals? What drives strategic direction is a mission and vision that lives beyond the current personnel. A school vision must almost have a life of its own. Be “systems” oriented when you evaluate education management models.
Should You Buy That School?
There are five key elements that should be used to gauge the viability of a school purchase. We will share our key criteria and measures over the following series of blog posts to help you narrow down the field.
*GSE provides premium management services for schools that achieve education and business priorities.
Who is Global Services in Education (GSE)
Global Services in Education is a full service education management company led by education experts. They are proven education and business leaders who know how to set up and manage international schools in unique cultural contexts. GSE lead education projects from the initial idea to set up and full management. Kindergarten, Primary, Middle and High School, Universities and Adult education.
School Acquisition: GSE represents investors looking to acquire schools or evaluate potential of school group expansion.