15000 Hours – the impact of schools
‘15000 hours – Secondary schools and their effect on children’ by Professor Michael Rutter looked into patterns of life within the walls of a school, and how these patterns affected pupil achievement.
Rutter’s team took twenty inner London schools and examined factors such as attendance and delinquency to see if schools were similar in their outcomes. There were two main findings. The first was that emotional, behavioural and reading problems were twice as common in London as on the Isle of Wight, which was used as a comparison. The second was that the problems and difficulties shown by the children were strongly linked with various types of family adversity.
Tests were used to assess the intellectual and reading levels of the children. In 1974 the original survey was followed up and the differences examined. Across the cohort very large variations were found in delinquency rates, behavioural deviance and reading difficulties. However, the analysis showed that the key factor for success what their experiences whilst they attended school.
The researchers concluded that each school had its own “ethos” or ambiance, which was largely responsible for its success or failure. Schools with a good ethos had several things in common:
- Teachers got along well with students and their expectations of the students were high.
- They assigned homework regularly, marked it rapidly, and returned it with helpful comments.
- They came to classes well prepared, managed classroom time well, moved smoothly from one activity to the next, and maintained appropriate discipline.
The research team found that classroom behaviour was much better when teachers were well prepared and there was pace and progression in the lesson. Children were seen to be very receptive towards teachers who had high expectations about achievement and behaviour within their classrooms. They were seen to work harder in these classrooms compared to the rate of industry in classrooms where the pupils were being ‘baby sat’. Good behaviour was also associated with the system of discipline that the school had adopted. Where it was seen to be consistent, fair and even handed the students responded well in terms of observed behaviour.
Outcomes tended to be better where schools provided pleasant conditions for the pupils to learn. The general maintenance and decoration of the school building was observed to be a contributing factor to student behaviour and achievement.
The research team did not deny that family background was important. However, they demonstrated that schools play a crucial role in educating children, and that some schools do a far better job than others. Children are very quick to pick up other people’s expectations of their academic competence and their behaviour. They tend to live up, or down to what is expected of them. They also respond to a school environment that is both welcoming and pleasant to learn in.
To briefly sum the research up we can conclude that the successful schools shared certain characteristics. They had an emphasis on academic achievement, clear expectations and routines, high levels of student participation, and alternative resources such as library facilities, vocational work opportunities, art, music, and extracurricular activities. However, one of the most significant findings was that the longer students attended these successful schools, the more their problem behaviours decreased.
In unsuccessful schools, the opposite was true. The longer students attend them, the more they exhibited problem behaviours. They research team concluded that, ‘Schools that foster high self-esteem and that promote social and scholastic success reduce the likelihood of emotional and behavioural disturbance’
In brief, schools matter!
“The results carry the strong implication that schools can do much to foster good behaviour and attainments, and that, even in a disadvantaged area, schools can be a force for the good.” Rutter, 1979, p 205.