What does quality mean in primary education?

Posted by Nicola Morris

I am sure this is a question that many school leaders have asked themselves over the years. The oxford English Dictionary defines quality as: 

the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of somethinga distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something’

There are several key words which stand out to me when we seek to define quality in primary education. The word ‘measured‘ is frequently used in schools. How are we measuring impact, how are we measuring the progress our pupils are making and how are we measured against the Ofsted framework. So many primary schools are now focussed on measuring progress of pupils to ensure that they are challenging individuals in their learning and evidencing improvement for external validation. But is this what quality really means?

There is now also an increased focus in schools on mental wellbeing. Public Health England published a paper on the link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainmentthe findings demonstrating that pupils with better health and wellbeing are likely to achieve better academically.  

Effective social and emotional competencies are associated with greater health and wellbeing and better achievement. This is not new news for us in education; we are acutely aware of those pupils in our care who are dealing with social and emotional issues and the negative impact it has on their learning. So, does the UK school system take into account mental wellbeing when it is measuring quality in schools?  

"So many primary schools are now focussed on measuring progress of pupils to ensure that they are challenging individuals in their learning and evidencing improvement for external validation. But is this what quality really means?"

Another key word is excellence. We all strive for excellence in school and for our pupils, but what does it really mean? I am sure many of you will recall the ‘excellence and enjoyment – a strategy for primary schools’ from the early 2000’s. The purpose was to empower primary schools to take control of their curriculum, be more innovative and to develop their own character, to strengthen leadership, particularly leadership of teaching and professional development to embed the principles of teaching and learning in English and mathematics across the curriculum. But how is this different from the expectations of excellence in schools today; what does excellence really look like as the bar is raised year on year? 


WATCH: An introduction to Quality Mark

Quality Mark's National Director, Nicola Morris, gives an overview of the internationally acknowledged accreditation programme for the improvement of English and maths provision, including: how it guides sustainable continuous improvement; what it means for  your stakeholders; an outline of the audit tool, and details of the support mechanisms to help you on your organisation's improvement journey.


Mark Enser on behalf of the Teacher Network unpicks ‘creating a culture of excellence which permeates every classroom, department and school; a focus not on simply getting the best test or exam results, but on getting the best education and creating a lifelong passion for learning’. How does a school develop a lifelong passion for learning? In Japan, high school education is not compulsory, but enrolment is over 96%.  Is this because there is a lifelong passion for learning? There is no illiteracy and Japan are 2nd in the PISA Global rankings in comparison to the United Kingdom’s 15th. If secondary school was not compulsory in the United Kingdom, I am not sure in the current climate that the uptake would be as high.

So, how do we promote excellence and lifelong learning amid the pressures on schools to perform, with a constant focus on league table measures, exam results, reductions in budgets and the ever-present Ofsted inspections looming?

"Does the UK school system take into account mental wellbeing when it is measuring quality in schools?"

The final definition of quality I would like to explore is ‘a distinctive attribute or characteristic’. I am sure you will agree that when we read the above definition, we can easily relate this to pupils we have taught and members of our teams we have worked with.  Ask yourselves the question, ‘what is the distinctive attribute or characteristic which makes them an individual who will succeed now and, in the future?’. What makes your school distinctive and how can you demonstrate that you are at the forefront of educational thinking?

We aspire to a quality education for our pupils with quality teachers and leaders in schools. A focus on all aspects of quality provision will ensure that we promote a well-rounded education for the leaders of the future. 

Being distinctive is one thing but maintaining and continuously improving that distinction can be very different. Leadership teams and staff need to be aware of their distinctive strengths, monitor progression and avoid that distinction simply being seen as a badge; instead seeking to embed it in day-to-day school operations. No-one in education will ever claim continuous quality improvement is easy, but with the right people and an appropriate framework that acts as a scaffold to teaching practice, schools will always take a more pro-active approach to the delivery and improvement of quality education.

See how thousands of schools use Quality Mark to embed continuous quality improvement in their day-to-day.

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