|Case Study Research - A Model of Best Practice at Loreto Day School, Sealdah, Calcutta - Occasional paper No.1 (DFID, 1998, 36 p.)|
Research into models of 'best practice' in primary and secondary schooling in recent years has sought to pin down generic indicators which characterise 'good' schools. These have ranged from the school's value system, its academic achievements, the quality of relationships, to leadership, community-building and the provision of adequate resources. In the Indian context, Loreto Day School, Sealdah, has been identified as a school which provides a unique and interesting model of best practice. In 1997, education officials from six states associated with the DPEP Project visited the school to look at examples of experimental practice within the school, and to meet with the principal, Sr Cyril, who has subsequently been co-opted as a Resource Person for DPEP.
DFIDI Education Projects Office, British Council, commissioned a small scale research study to investigate and identify the characteristics of best practice at Loreto Sealdah. This study was carried out in March and April 1998. Three visits to the school took place during which data were collected using audio-taped interviews, observations, discussion groups with pupils and documentary analysis. The findings of the study are outlined in this report.
The report is divided into four major components. In the first section, there is a description of the school, its programmes, projects, values and ethos. The second section reflects on the nature of research on best practice, establishes a set of criteria for identifying best practice, and goes on to distil aspects of best practice which are grounded in the reality of Loreto Day School, Sealdah. A third section provides critical discussion of the major findings of the investigation and goes on to explore and challenge some prevailing myths about schooling using Loreto Sealdah as an example. Finally, the report draws some implications for policy and practice out of the study.
The major findings of the investigation may be summarised as follows:
· a shared vision and explicit collective values provide the catalyst for profound changes within a school setting;
· responsibility and freedom for teachers and pupils alike increases the capacity for human agency 1;
1Human agency denotes the capacity for individuals and/or groups to act out their choices against the background of supposedly determined and fixed social structures.
· the power of ideas in school leadership is able to drive change;
· people respond to meaningful social ideals where there are corresponding and imaginative practical strategies for realising them;
· the ways of schools are not inevitable - and therefore paradigm shifts are possible;
· decision-making devolved to school and community level is able to effect massive local change;
· for real change to happen, risks must be taken, mistakes made, and these reflected upon;
· changes need to be responsive to needs if they are not to be cosmetic;
· purely academic goals may obscure the wider role and responsibility of the school;
· where planning and action go hand-in-hand, this is able to awaken people's hopes and their commitment to the change process;
· incremental changes which develop alongside the vision but without great fanfare are often the best way of conquering the fear of change;
· teachers who practise what they believe in and contribute to the way things happen in schools enjoy greater job satisfaction;
· the desire for educational transformation is crucial to its execution. 2
2 As Meier (1995) has argued: "The
question is not, Is it possible to educate all children well? but rather, Do we
want to do it badly enough?" (ibid, p. 3), and further "...the
secret ingredient is wanting it badly enough" (ibid., p.
In broad terms, the implications of these findings for education policy and practice are as follows:
1. The case study points to the fact that education has both a moral and a technical dimension. The power of ideas, values and ideologies are embedded, but also hidden in education statements and actions. Both the technical aspects and the moral imperatives of educational transformation need to be made explicit in policy and practice.
2. The devolution of authority to schools and communities is likely to create a climate of 'ownership' which may facilitate change. The caveat to this is that without sound leadership and vision, ownership may equally become a force for vested interests within a school, and a buttress for the status quo.
3. Planning and action in response to immediate local and community needs has been successful in this case of school transformation. A feature of the planning and action has been that authority has been dispersed and delegated rather than centralised in systems of control. 3
3See Elmore, 1989, "Backward Mapping: Implementation Research and Policy Decisions"
4. The flexible and creative reshaping of fixed ideas about the structure of schooling may facilitate change and enable human agents to take action and ownership over these structures. With vision and a sense of purpose, individuals can make a difference.
5. Schools need sound leadership, a core of reasonably well-trained and flexible teachers, and basic resources within which human agency may be enacted. However, the stretching of resources beyond their 'normal' carrying capacity need not be a deterrent to success.