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Relentless precision - What it takes to drive high standards in schools

What I learnt from a visit to Mastery Schools Australia this week

This week I saw some of the best teaching I’ve seen this year. It was at Mastery Schools Australia.

MSA is a group of schools in Queensland and beyond that focuses on high quality Direct Instruction for students who have struggled in standard education settings.

I was at MSA to see their coaching program, which has received an extra boost of energy through the fantastic work of Naveen Rizvi. Naveen flew out from the UK to spend the last term of the Aussie school year at MSA and try to strengthen the coaching processes that they already had in place.

As with all school visits, I was looking for active ingredients. I was trying to work what Naveen and her team have done in the past few months that have led to such an increase in the quality of teaching that has built upon the already phenomenal success of MSA (a group of schools that achieves an average of more than 1.5 year’s progress each year for every student. Particularly impressive given the phenomenally high proportion of their students who have special needs).

In discussions with MSA co-founder, Michael Roberts, I asked him what it is that’s led to the rapid increase in the consistency, exactness, and impact of teaching at MSA over the past term of Naveen’s work.

Michael had two words, ‘Relentless precision’.

And this is what I saw this week. Within the space of only two hours I visited six classes with Naveen and saw her give feedback to every single one of these teachers.

The feedback was precise, each time offering one specific thing for the teacher to work on.

And Naveen was relentless. In several of the lessons, Naveen live coached the teacher, jumping in when she felt that there was an opportunity to push the already high standards even higher.

In one such instance, a group of students who were struggling to spell several tricky words; sleepy, lengthy, and fatal. In a three minute intervention, Naveen taught, retaught, checked, re-checked, taught, retaught, then checked and checked again each and every students’ knowledge of how to spell each of the three words.

Last year, in two separate trips, I visited numerous high achieving schools in the UK. Schools like Michaela Community School, Dixons, and Reach Academy Feltham (a trip which you can hear me talk about here). One of the questions I had was, ‘How on earth have these schools achieved such high consistency, exactness, and impact? How are such high standards attained?’

This week, I feel I went some way to understanding what it takes.

This lesson isn’t only for those schools striving for high quality Direct or even explicit instruction. In anything we do, I think that we can do better if we strive for those two qualities that Michael so eloquently identified: Relentless precision.

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