Sunday, 6 July 2014

How well are our schools doing? School Performance Review with LCD

In the mid-nineties, getting African children into school was the main priority and the introduction of free basic (primary) education was the route to achieving that aim. By the end of the decade most countries, Malawi among them, were reporting enrolments of of 80%, 90% and even more. Then, rightly, priorities changed.

With so many new enrolments, schools became overcrowded, with too few classrooms and too few teachers. Teachers themselves were often poorly educated and working in very difficult circumstances. As a result, children were not learning, or not learning well enough.

Current priorities in education development therefore are no longer just about increasing the numbers of children in school. They are about keeping them there and discouraging them from dropping out, particularly girls. Priorities are also, crucially, about ensuring that the education learners receive is of good quality and that they leave basic education literate, numerate and with the skills to keep themselves healthy and support themselves and their families.

So, these days the work of most education NGOs and development organisations focuses on improving the quality of schooling children receive. Improving school quality is also the main focus of the organisation I work with, Link Community Development (LCD or Link).

LCD is an international NGO which works across a number of African countries. The aim of LCD's work is to improve the quality of basic education, particularly for learners in rural schools. It does this by working with district councils, helping them to improve their governance and quality assurance of schools. Partnership with districts must, of course come about in agreement with national governments, so another key element of LCD's work is partnership with Education Ministries.

LCD has developed a distinctive approach to finding out how well schools are doing called School Performance Review (SPR). SPR is carried out by district officers called Primary Education Advisers. Each PEA is responsible for a group of about ten or fifteen schools. The SPR process helps them to structure their normal supervision activities and focus on key aspects of education quality. The rest of this post illustrates the SPR process using photographs taken in various schools.

The team of PEAs arrive at the primary school by about 7 am, so that they can observe the start of the school day and assembly, which should take place at 7.30.

The headboy rings the school 'bell', here hanging on a tree but it could just as well be on the ground, as in the picture below.

At 7.30, the children begin to line up outside the classrooms.

Immediately after assembly, the SPR team gathers to plan the day, ask the headteacher to collect information together and decide who does what. The staff room in one of the schools was particularly roomy and comfortable, having been built and furnished with funds provided by a partner school in the Edinburgh area. You can see some of the displays brought over by the Scottish school. In most schools, however, the team assembles in the headteacher's office.

The team can already see some of the information they need on the walls, for example, examination results, school roll, teachers' responsibilities.
A member of the team interviews the headteacher while the others start observing classes. They will be looking out for teaching which encourages learners to be actively involved. They also hope to see displays on the classroom walls which make them attractive places for learning.

For example, in this lesson, the children are learning about the jobs people do. The labels held up by the pupils give the names of particular professions. The teacher has also made some posters to illustrate some of the jobs.

Here on the right, a teacher demonstrates how to sharpen a panga (machete) during an agriculture lesson.

Children may be asked to demonstrate an activity on the backboard. They may work in groups, though sometimes groups are organised simply because there are not enough textbooks to go round. However, when group work is well managed it can encourage a more active approach to learning.

The PEAs observe the extent and quality of display: on the classroom walls, as well as artefacts and 'learning centres', illustrating important teaching points. These displays will almost always have been prepared by the teachers themselves, using locally available materials.

In the meantime, other members of the team meet groups of children, groups of teachers, the school management committee, parents and members of the community.

Here the PEA introduces herself to members of the school's Mothers' Group. The role of the Mothers' Group is to support girls and encourage them to remain in school. Members of the group may discuss issues like the availability of sanitary protection, lack of which often keeps girls out of school. They may cover topics like early marriage and keep an eye on those girls who are particularly vulnerable. The SPR will focus on the success or otherwise of such groups in making schools 'child-friendly' and keeping girls in school.

After the children have gone home at the end of the school day - by about 14.30 - the SPR team meets to discuss their evidence and evaluations. They summarise the strengths and areas for improvement under each of the indicators and prepare a record of their findings to use as an aide memoire when they report back and to leave behind in the school.

First however, they provide immediate feedback on their key findings.

Here you can see members of the community gathering for this feedback session. They will be joined by pupils, teachers, members of the various school groups and committees and local leaders.

In a couple of weeks, the SPR team will return for a meeting of the whole school community and the process of planning for improvement will begin. However, that is for another post. We will leave the SPR process here. It's been a busy day but, by the end of it, each school has received a pretty thorough report on some of its key activities and understands quite a lot more about how well it is doing.

You may also be interested in the following post:

Tagging along with Link on a primary school visit

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