Learning schools

Learning Schools

Schools as learning organisations (SLOs) are undergoing a resurgence for Primary and Secondary schools seeking long term change and improvement. Such schools replace ‘schooling’ for learning. They embrace learning, not only for students but all staff.  They create cultures, systems and structures that support “learning to learn” on a whole-school basis. These schools bring together shared values where everyone works toward a goal of sustained excellence in learning. They reflect on what they are doing and adapt accordingly. They are flexible to change. They do not stand still. They learn from themselves and from others and are committed to lifelong learning.

This MESH Guide introduces the idea of SLOs and the evidence underpinning it. It provides  resources and materials to help put this into practice.  The intended audience for this Guide is teachers, Headteachers and those with roles in school development and improvement.

Case for change

This first section in this Guide puts a case for a change in traditional thinking and working in schools. In today’s fast changing world, education needs thinking that is creative and critical. It needs problem-solving and decision-making, all to prepare students to be lifelong learners and enterprising citizens. Traditional models of schooling and conventional approaches to teaching and classroom organisation are inadequate for delivering 21st century learning agendas, especially for the most disadvantaged students (Schleicher, 2012). Quick fix attempts at school improvement have little to offer complex change processes in schools.

Achieving the best outcomes for students is a core objective of every school and school system. The outcomes that schools seek are not only academic. Students’ interests, motivation and well-being help shaping their learning (Dumont, Istance, & Benavides, 2010). Hargreaves said learning is the most important resource for organisational renewal in the postmodern age (Hargreaves, 1994). Learning in the 21st century is different from learning in the 20th century. Many schools are looking for alternative approaches to the narrowed curriculum, results-driven teaching and reform initiatives, to school-wide changes that focus valuable attention on the positive factors which promote the learning and development of students. A convincing body of evidence exists for reframing schools as “learning organisations” (Doherty, 2018; Doherty, 2020; Harris & Jones, 2018; Kools & Stoll 2016; Seashore & Lee, 2016; Welsh Government, 2017). A school that is a learning organisation deals better with the changing external environment, facilitates change and innovation, induces improvements in the human resource outcomes of school staff and enhances student learning. In this strategy, schools function as a learning organisations in order to continue to improve performance and build capacity to manage change. This Guide offers a new view, one in which schools are seen as dynamic and enterprising, learning and learner-focussed, able to meet the demands of the 21st century. 


Doherty, J. (2018) Developing Learning Schools IMPACT: Journal of the Chartered  College of Teaching. Spring

Doherty, J. (2020) Connecting people, learning and school systems through ‘learning schools’.  Education Exchange, Chartered College of Teaching. July.

Dumont, H., Istance, D. &  Benavides, F. (Eds) (2010) Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. Paris: OECD Publishing

Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing Teachers. Changing Times: Teachers’ Work and Culture in the Postmodern Age. London: Cassell

Harris, A. & Jones, M. (2018) Leading schools as learning organizations. School Leadership & Management, 38:4, 351-354

Kools, M. &  Stoll, L. (2016)  What Makes a School a Learning Organisation?, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 137, Paris: OECD Publishing

OECD (2016). What Makes a School a Learning Organisation.  OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264245914-en

Seashore L.K. & Lee., M. (2016). Teachers’ Capacity for Organizational Learning: The Effects of School

Culture and Context.” School Effectiveness and School Improvement 27 (4): 534–556.

Schleicher, A. (2012), (Ed) Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century: Lessons from around the World, Paris: OECD Publishing.

Welsh Government (2017) Schools in Wales as learning organisations. https://beta.gov.wales/schools-learning-organisations-slo-overview.


School Improvement

Chapman, C., D. Muijs, D. Reynolds, P. Sammons, and C. Teddlie (Eds) (2015). The Routledge International Handbook of Educational Effectiveness and Improvement: Research, Policy, and Practice. London: Routledge.

Reynolds, D., Sammons,P., De Fraine, B., Van Damme, J., Townsend, T., Teddlie, C. & Stringfield, S. (2014) Educational Effectiveness Research (EER): A State-of-the-Art Review. School Effectiveness and School Improvement 25 (2): 197–230.

Organisational change

Stoll, L., MacBeath, J. Smith, I. & Robertson, P. (2001). The change equation: Capacity for improvement. In J. MacBeath & P. Mortimore (eds), Improving school effectiveness. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Organisational and team learning

Belbin, M. (2004) (2nd Ed), Management Teams: Why they succeed or fail, Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Learning communities

Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Stoll, L., Thomas, S., Wallace, M., Greenwood, A., Hawkey, K., Ingram, M., Atkinson, A. & Smith, M. (2005). Creating and sustaining effective professional learning communities. Research Report 637. London: DfES and University of Bristol.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2006). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Teachers’ professional learning

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H. & Fung, I. (2007) Teacher professional learning and development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

Timperley, H. (2011) Realising the Power of Professional Learning. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.

Learning organisations

Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline, New York: Doubleday.

Schools as learning organisations

Doherty, J. (2018) Developing Learning Schools IMPACT: Journal of the Chartered

College of Teaching. Spring.

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R. D., & Smith, B. J. (2000). Schools that learn: The fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education. New York: Doubleday.

Kools, M. & L. Stoll,L.(2016) “What Makes a School a Learning Organisation?, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 137, Paris: OECD Publishing.

Innovative learning environments

OECD (2015) Schooling Redesigned Towards Innovative Learning Systems. Paris: OECD.

21st Century learning

Hattie, J. (2009) Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses related to achievement. London: Routledge.

Leading learning

Day, C., Harris, A., Hadfield, M., Tolley, H. & Beresford, J. (2000). Leading schools in times of change. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Katzenmeyer, M. & Moller, G. (2001). Awakening the Sleeping Giant. Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders. Thousand Oaks, California, Corwin Press.

Muijs, D. & Harris, A. (2006) Teacher led school improvement: Teacher leadership in the UK. Teaching and teacher education, 22(8), pp.961-72.

Learning organisations

A number of models of the learning organisation exist, mostly from the business world and the principles are easily transferrable to schools. Summarising the main ideas behind these, are seven dimensions as shown in the table below.

Dimensions Definition
Create continuous learning Learning is designed into work so that people can learn on the job; opportunities are provided for ongoing education and growth.

Promote inquiry and Dialogue

People gain productive reasoning skills to express their views and the capacity to listen and inquire into the views of others; the culture is changed to support questioning, feedback, and experimentation.

Encourage collaboration and team learning

Work is designed to use groups to access different modes of thinking; groups are expected to learn together and work together; collaboration is valued by the culture and rewarded.
Create systems to capture and share learning Both high- and low-technology systems to share learning are created and integrated with work; access is provided; systems are maintained.
Empower people toward a collective vision People are involved in setting, owning, and implementing a joint vision; responsibility is distributed close to decision making so that people are motivated to learn toward what they are held accountable to do.

Connect the organisation to its environment

People are helped to see the effect of their work on the entire enterprise; people scan the environment and use information to adjust work practices; the organisation is linked to its communities.

Provide strategic leadership for learning

Leaders model, champion, and support learning; leadership uses learning strategically for business results.

(Source: Marsick & Watkins, 2003)                                        

Undoubtedly, the definitive book on learning organisations, The Fifth Discipline (1990) was written by Peter Senge and has sold over 750,000 copies globally.  The five disciplines identified in it (personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning and systems thinking) are the keys to achieving this in any organisation, including schools.

  • Systems thinking. This is understanding how everything works together and how all the parts influence one another to comprise the whole.
  • Personal mastery. Individuals must learn for organisations to learn. Personal mastery of skills and knowledge is a journey. It is more than just building skills and competencies, involving a desire for knowledge and continual improvement.
  • Mental models. Senge defined this as “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations or even pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” To become a learning organisation, you must break through preconceptions and strive to learn from alternative points of view.
  • Building shared vision. Vision is more than a statement, it is a shared future. When staff believe and see the vision, it can become reality. A shared vision creates synergies to work toward common goals.
  • Team learning. Team learning begins when individual assumptions are abandoned and an organisation’s members begin to think together. This requires a culture of understanding and openness. The idea is for everyone to share what they know and build on the sum knowledge of the entire team. This simple step will rapidly produce results and better position to achieve its shared vision.

The learning organisation grows from a commitment to studying and mastering five "learning disciplines" (Senge, 1990). Each discipline must be mastered separately, but together they build the learning organisation.



Marsick, V. J. & Watkins, K. E. (2003). Demonstrating the value of an organization’s learning culture: The Dimensions of Learning Organizations Questionnaire. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 5, 132–151.

Senge, P.M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation. New York: Doubleday

Turning schools into learning schools

This section is the main core of the MESH Guide and introduces the idea of schools as learning organisations. Schools as learning organisations (SLOs) is proving a very popular concept in policy and in practice for those schools seeking long term change and improvement (Doherty, 2018; Doherty, 2020; Harris & Jones, 2018; OECD, (2016); Welsh Government, 2017). Creating such schools requires a significant cultural shift, often a change of mind-set and definitely a schoolwide commitment to self-reflection and evaluation.

The “schools as learning organisations” model (OECD, 2016) focuses on 7 dimensions:

  1. Developing and sharing a vision centred on the learning of all students
  2. Creating and supporting continuous learning opportunities for all staff
  3. Promoting team learning and collaboration among all staff
  4. Establishing a culture of inquiry, exploration and innovation
  5. Embedding systems for collecting and exchanging knowledge and learning
  6. Learning with and from the external environment and larger learning system
  7. Modelling and growing learning leadership

In the fast changing landscape of education, schools that thrive are those where learning is central to everything they do. Successful schools replace ‘schooling’ for learning. They embrace that learning is multi layered and involves not only pupil learning but that of all staff and other stakeholders. They create cultures, systems and structures that support “learning to learn” on a whole school basis. These schools bring together shared values where everyone works toward a goal of sustained excellence in learning. They reflect on what they are doing and adapt accordingly. They are flexible to change. They do not stand still. They learn from themselves and from others and are committed to lifelong learning.

From a recent article I wrote I see the main components of schools as learning organisations are:


Doherty, J. (2018) Developing Learning Schools IMPACT: Journal of the Chartered

College of Teaching. Spring.

Doherty, J. (2020) Connecting people, learning and school systems through ‘learning schools’. Education Exchange, Chartered College of Teaching. July.

Harris, A. & Jones, M. (2018) Leading schools as learning organizations. School Leadership & Management, 38:4, 351-354.

OECD (2016) What Makes a School a Learning Organisation?  OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264245914-en. 

Welsh Government (2017) Schools in Wales as learning organisations. https://beta.gov.wales/schools-learning-organisations-slo-overview.

Characteristics of learning schools

The most important characteristics are –

School vision and mission

Clear and accessible to most staff

Shared by staff

Perceived to be meaningful by most staff

Pervasive in conversation and decision-making




Shared belief in continuous professional growth

Mutual support

Belief in providing honest feedback to colleagues

Sharing of ideas and materials

Support for risk taking

Encouragement for open discussion of difficulties

Commitment to helping students


School structure

Open and inclusive decision-making processes

Distributed decision-making

Team teaching

Frequent problem-solving sessions

Preparation periods for teachers to work together


School strategies

A systematic strategy for goal setting involving students, parents and staff

Development of school growth plans

Defining priorities for action and periodic review and revision

Resources to support professional development

Innovative learning environments

It is important to re-engineer schools to adapt them for 21st century learning.

OECD findings (2015) suggest a focus on four elements: learners, educators, content, and resources. The report concluded that schools are most powerful when they:

  • make learning central and where learners understand themselves as learners
  • ensure learning is social and collaborative
  • are attuned to learner motivations and emotions
  • are sensitive to individual differences
  • are demanding of each learner without overloading
  • use assessments consistent with aims and emphasize formative feedback
  • promote horizontal connectedness across activities and subjects

Other research is beginning to show that a common characteristic of successful investment is active participation in schools’ design. Schools are places of learning for staff and students. Ty Goddard, British Council for Schools Environments said you have to create schools WITH people and not FOR people.

For some great examples see the November 2016 article in Teaching Times by Rebecca Vukovic.

'Designing the schools of the future’  E:\C21 SCHOOLS\Innovative learning environments\Designing the schools of the future - Teacher.mht

And also the article by Peter Lipman in Teaching Times, ‘Creating places for learning’.  E:\C21 SCHOOLS\Innovative learning environments\Creating places for learning - Teacher.mht


A “learning culture” is an environment that supports and encourages the continuous and collective discovery, sharing, and application of knowledge and skills at the individual, team, and whole organisation levels in order to achieve the goals of the organisation.  A learning culture is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which employees feel safe challenging the status quo and taking risks to enhance the quality of what they do for customers, themselves, shareholders and other stakeholders. It is an environment in which learning how to learn is valued and accepted. In a learning culture, the pursuit of learning is woven into the whole organisational life.

Any given school environment represents the interplay of school cultural values; the curricular, organisational, and human resources of the school; and student productivity, all seen through the lens of student, teacher, and parent perceptions of the school's climate. Features include:

• committed, school leaders with ambitious goals and supported by strong leadership teams

• effectively communicated, realistic, detailed expectations understood by all members of the school

• highly consistent working practices throughout the school

• a clear understanding of what the school culture is ‘this is how we do things around here, and these are the values we hold’

• high levels of staff and parental commitment to the school vision and strategies

• high levels of support between leadership and staff, for example, staff training

• attention to detail and thoroughness in the execution of school policies and strategies

• high expectations of all students and staff, and a belief that all students matter equally

Useful to read the ILETC Technical Report 4/18. ‘A systematic review of the effects of learning environments on student learning outcomes’. ‘It outlines systematic evidence on the impact that different learning environments have on student learning outcomes in primary and secondary schools’ learning environments.’ There are many case study examples on the web site at: http://www.iletc.com.au/school-case-studies/

If you are interested in the effect of behaviour on a school’s environment, look at Tom Bennett’s ‘Creating a Culture: How school leaders can optimise behavior’. March 2017.

Teachers' professional learning

“It is clearer today than ever that educators need to learn, and that’s why professional learning has replaced professional development. Developing is not enough. Educators must be knowledgeable and wise. They must know enough in order to change. They must change in order to get different results. They must become learners …” (Easton, 2008)

Teaching is a dynamic profession and, as new knowledge about teaching and learning emerges, new types of expertise are required. A growing evidence base about student learning forms a compelling case for engaging teachers in highly effective professional learning and has profound implications for what is taught, how it is taught, and how learning is assessed (Bransford et al., 2000). The quality of what teachers know and can do has the greatest impact on student learning (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Muijs & Reynolds, 2000). Research also affirms that engaging teachers in high quality professional learning is the most successful way to improve teacher effectiveness (Elmore, 2002). Over the past ten years there have been a number of systematic reviews and analyses of the research evidence which are worth dipping into about teachers’ continuing professional development and learning (CPDL). These include Cordingley et al., 2005 and a ‘Best Evidence Synthesis’ by Timperley et al., (2007).

Professional Learning which impacts directly on classrooms involves

  • learning-focused activity
  • two or more teachers working together
  • shared planning
  • joint observation of groups of children to identify learning (gaps)
  • interviewing and talking to children
  • evaluation of learning to gather information
  • refining the plans for further teaching
  • understanding what has worked and why
  • feeding back to the whole school


Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. (2000) How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington DC.

Cordingley, P., Bell, M., Thomason, S. & Firth, A. (2005) The impact of collaborative continuing professional development (CPD) on classroom teaching and learning. Review: How do collaborative and sustained CPD and sustained but not collaborative CPD affect teaching and learning? In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

Darling-Hammond, L. (2000) ‘Teacher quality and student achievement: A review of state policy evidence’, Education Policy Analysis Archives, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 1–49.

Easton, L.B. (2008) From Professional Development to Professional Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 89(10), p.755-759.

Elmore, R.E. (2002) Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement: The Imperative for Professional Development in Education, Albert Shanker Institute.

Muijs, D. & Reynolds, D (2000) School effectiveness and teacher effectiveness in mathematics. Some preliminary findings from the evaluation of the Mathematics Enhancement Programme (Primary). School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 11(3), 273-303.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H. & Fung, I. (2007) Teacher professional learning and development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

Organisation and team learning

There is a growing expectation that schools will show an ability to learn, for individuals (teachers, leaders, other adults participating in school work) and the school organisation. Organisational learning (OL) is how organisations reach the ideal of a learning organisation.

OL has flourished since its beginnings in the 1980s. Economides (2008) believed that the greatest learning takes place collaboratively as opposed to individually. Popper and Lipshitz (2000) talk about “learning within” an organisation – individually, and “learning of ” the organisation – collectively. It is therefore more than individual learning and arises through the interaction of individuals in groups and teams.

Robbins (1996) distinguished between two types of learning, namely single-loop learning and double-loop learning. In the former, errors are corrected using past routines and present policies. In the latter errors are corrected by modifying the organisation’s objectives, policies and standard routines. According to Robbins, double-loop learning challenges deep-rooted assumptions and norms, thereby creating opportunities for radically different solutions to problems.

The notion of team work is highly praised and encouraged as a means of organisational learning. Few people work alone in organisations. Team learning and collaboration are central to the school as a learning organisation. Most organisations are built around teams with more and more organisations are seeing the leverage potential of focusing on teams.  Team learning, which consists of building knowledge by sharing information and ideas with colleagues  and questioning and discussing this shared information (Decuyper et al., 2010) is needed to increase team performance. I saw a wonderful example of this on a visit to Tampere University in Finland with team learning on a number of community projects. Three factors reflect the role and function of these learning teams:

  • An acceptance by the team and the team coach that a coaching approach is appropriate and beneficial
  • A focus on performance
  • An emphasis on conversations between team members aimed at making more effective use of collective skills, knowledge and interests.

I am happy to send the full version of this paper to you.



Decuyper, S., Dochy, F., & Van den Bossche, P. (2010). Grasping the dynamic complexity of team learning: An integrative model for effective team learning in organisations. Educational Research Review, 5(2), 111e133.

Economides, A.A. (2008) Culture-aware collaborative learning, Multicultural

Education & Technology Journal, Vol. 2 No. 4, pp. 243-267

Popper, M. & Lipshitz, R. (2000), Organizational learning: mechanisms, culture, and feasibility, Management Learning , Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 181-196.

Robbins, S. (Seventh Edition) (1996). Organizational Behaviour: Concepts – Controversies - Applications. Prentice-Hall: New Jersey.

Learning communities

In high-performing systems, professional learning communities (PLCs) have emerged as a cornerstone program. These are groups of teachers who meet as teams to examine student achievement, set achievement goals, identify essential and valued student learning, develop formative and common summative assessments, share teaching strategies and best practices. The expectation is that this collaborative effort will produce improved student achievement.  At the heart of the concept, however, is the notion of community. The focus is not just on individual teachers’ professional learning but of professional learning within a community context – a community of learners, and the notion of collective learning. Learning communities share collective responsibility for the learning of all students within the school or school system. Collective responsibility brings together the education community, teachers, and support staff as well as families, to improve learning and teaching.  

Professional learning communities emphasize three key components: collaborative work and discussion among the school’s professionals, a strong and consistent focus on teaching and learning within that collaborative work, and the collection and use of assessment and other data to inquire into and evaluate progress over time (Bolam et al., 2005).

This is good advice on creating PLCs. In order “to create a professional learning community, focus on learning rather than on teaching, work collaboratively and hold yourself accountable for results” (Du Four (2004, p.6). Practical ways that learning community members do this is exchanging feedback about their practice with one another, visiting each other's classrooms or work settings, and sharing resources. Collaborative conversations quickly move from “What are we expected to teach?” to “How will we know when a student has learned?”



Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Stoll, L., Thomas, S., & Wallace, M. (with Greenwood, A., et al.) (2005) Creating and sustaining effective professional learning communities (Research Brief RB637). Nottingham, United Kingdom: Department for Education and Skills.

DuFour, R. (2004). Schools as learning communities. Educational Leadership, 61(8), 6 – 11.

Leadership of learning

The role of a leader becomes more critical and important as organisations continuously improve and evolve.  An extensive research base supports the view that leadership is the most important element of effective schools (Elmore, 2000; Stoll, 2004).

Leadership is the essential ingredient that binds all of the separate parts of the learning organisation together. School leaders have a vital role in establishing a learning culture, and promoting and facilitating organisational learning. Staff are encouraged to participate in decision making. Distributed leadership develops, grows and is sustained through collaboration team work, and participation in professional learning communities and networks. School leaders have a vital role in establishing a learning culture, and promoting and facilitating organisational learning. They are responsible for shaping the work and administrative structures to facilitate professional dialogue, collaboration and knowledge exchange, all of which are crucial for promoting organisational learning in schools. They have to create a safe and trusting environment in which people can change their behaviour, take initiative, experiment and understand that it is expected that they challenge the status quo. This means that school leaders too need to develop the capacity to challenge their own habits and current ways of thinking and operating. 

There is substantial research on distributed leadership in general (e.g. Spillane, 2005; Harris, 2008), highlighting the advantages of a broad distribution of leadership across the whole school.

Teacher leadership contributes directly to school effectiveness, improvement and development. It is powerful because it recognises that all teachers can be leaders and that their ability to lead has a significant influence upon the quality of relationships and teaching within the school. It leads to better professional learning for teachers as individuals and other school colleagues (MacBeath & Dempster, 2011). Teacher leaders occupy unique positions where they can make change happen in schools, primarily because they act “close to the ground” and have the knowledge and ability to control the conditions for teaching and learning in classrooms (Lieberman & Miller, 2004, p.12).


Harris, A. (2008) Distributed School Leadership, Abingdon: Routledge.

Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (2004) Teacher leadership. New York: Teachers College Press

MacBeath, J. (2011) No lack of principles: leadership development in England and Scotland. School Leadershipand Management, 31(2), pp.105–22.

Spillane, J. (2005) Distributed Leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Stoll, L. (2004) Leadership learning: Designing a connected strategy’, IARTV Seminar Series Paper, no. 135, August, IARTV.

21st century learning

Helping students to develop as confident, enthusiastic and effective learners is a central purpose of education. In this they make meaning rather than receive it.  They make decisions and solve authentic problems. They make use of a range of technologies. Their learning is active, driven by  learner agency and when appropriate, is collaborative. It demonstrates creativity and innovation and is relevant to the real world. They see themselves as learners and understand the learning process. It should include a commitment to making a difference in the learning and lives of all students, especially disadvantaged students and a focus on learning and teaching that influences a broad range of outcomes, both cognitive and social/emotional. Such a process involves staff, students, parents and other stakeholders.

Many schools already support 21st century learning. How can we build on innovations in today’s schools to create a new approach to learning fit for this century? The challenge is to replicate models of excellence and systematize great 21st century learning to make it everyday practice in schools everywhere. A number of programs already address the issue of 21st century skills. For example, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21 framework) has developed a vision of the broader set of skills required for success in the 21st and argues that each student should have the capacity for the following:

• Problem solving and decision making

• Creative and critical thinking

• Collaboration, communication, and negotiation

• Intellectual curiosity.

The vision is global but the path to 21st century education requires a local journey; one that recognizes and responds to specific challenges and opportunities within schools and localities. I found the following learning frameworks very powerful:

Learning Power


Kagan co-operative learning

See www.kaganonline.com › dr_spencer

Metacognition and self- regulated learning


The science of learning

w w w. d e a n s f o r i m p a c t . o r g

A Framework of Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills 11-19

See https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/7268/3/PLTS_framework_v2_tcm8-936-1.pdf

Practical tools to use

A Facilitator Toolkit from the NCSL gives examples of techniques and tools to facilitate adult learning. It is available at www.nationalcollege.org.uk › cm-mc-fac-resource-tool

Dip into Pedler & Aspinwall’s ‘ A Concise Guide to the Learning Organization’.

TOOL. How does your organisation measure up?’ 

TOOL the Organizational Readiness to Learn activity

Also try Pearn, Roderick and Mulrooney’s book ‘Learning Organizations in Practice.

TOOL. Learning Audit

TOOL. Learning Climate Questionnaire

Whilst both books are not directly about education, the materials can be easily adapted for schools.



Pearn, M., Roderick, C. & Mulrooney, C.  (1995) Learning Organizations in Practice. London: McGraw-Hill.

Pedler ,M. & Aspinwall. K. (1998) ‘ A Concise Guide to the Learning Organization’. London:  Lemos & Crane.

Reflective questions

The following questions are offered to stimulate your personal reflection and dialogue with school colleagues:

Can a school be successful without being a learning organisation?

Is my school a learning school?

What do learning schools do differently to other schools?

How can a school tell if its learning is effective?

Does the concept of a school as a learning organisation resonate in my school policies and practices?

Are the actions and elements of a learning organisation clearly evident in my school?

How might I explore this idea further and develop my school as learning organisation?



In 2017 Wales developed schools as learning organisations (SLOs) a key means for realising improvements in schools and curriculum. An SLO has the capacity to change and

adapt routinely to new environments and circumstances as its members, individually and together, learn their way to realising their vision. Collective working and learning and expanding the skills and learning of new ones by many teachers, teaching support staff, school leaders and others involved is believed essential for bringing Wales’ new curriculum to life.

The SLOs vision is a motivating force for sustained action. Staff are responsible for their own professional learning. Collaborative working and collective learning are central to the SLO.

SLOs uses enquiry to establish change and innovation in educational practice. They ensure they are “information-rich” or, more appropriately, “knowledge rich”.  SLOs exchange information and collaborate with the wider learning system.  The SLO model for Wales focuses on seven dimensions in its schools. These seven action-oriented dimensions and their underlying elements highlight both what a school should aspire to and the processes it goes through to transform itself into a learning organisation.

1. Developing a shared vision centred on the learning of all learners

2. Creating and supporting continuous learning opportunities for all staff

3. Promoting team learning and collaboration among all staff

4. Establishing a culture of enquiry, innovation and exploration

5. Establishing systems for collecting and exchanging knowledge for learning

6. Learning with and from the external environment and wider learning system

7. Modelling and growing learning leadership.


Case Study 1

Priory Church Primary school, Wales

Priory Church in Wales is an English-medium primary school situated in Brecon, Powys. There are 146 learners on roll, aged 3 to 11.The proportion of learners eligible for free school meals is 20 per cent, which is slightly above the national average of 19 per cent. Around 16 per cent of learners have a special educational need, which is below the national average of 21 per cent.

The school is the only training school in Wales for Mantle of the Expert, an inquiry-based approach to the curriculum that uses drama to engage, challenge and excite learners. As part of the professional learning school project the school has looked at developing the teaching staff (and learning support assistants) in school through a peer-coaching support programme to build on expertise ‘in-house’ and to develop the learning environment as a whole. The staff work in groups of three to trial the ‘Lesson Study’ approach adopted in Japan. This approach involves grouping teachers together to study the processes of learning and teaching in the classroom following the pedagogical approach of Mantle of the Expert. This is then followed by discussions of how to improve classroom practice. This approach has led to an increase of confidence in the creativity of all teachers across the school. There has also been an increase in the number of lessons judged good or better by leaders.

The school has shared this approach to learning and teaching with other schools across Wales by hosting study days and workshops for other practitioners to observe and discuss the practice.

Case Study 2

Dŵr y Felin  Comprehensive School, Wales

Dŵr y Felin Comprehensive School is an English-medium mixed 11 to 16 comprehensive school in Neath Port Talbot. There are currently 1,134 learners on roll. Learners are drawn from an area that includes Neath and the surrounding area. The school moved onto one site in 2012. Just over 14 per cent of learners live in the 20 per cent most deprived areas of Wales. Just over 17 per cent of learners are eligible for free school meals, which is in line with the Welsh average of 17.4 per cent. The percentage of learners with special educational needs is 25.8 per cent, which is in line with the national average of 25.1 per cent. The percentage of learners who have a statement of special educational needs is around 1 per cent, which is below the national average of 2.5 per cent.

Leaders wanted to adopt an approach to school improvement led by teacher collaboration. As a pioneer school for professional learning, the school is keen to develop opportunities for staff to develop their understanding of pedagogical principles through working and sharing together. In order to foster a proactive professional learning culture a ‘learning and teaching coordinator’ was appointed and given the role of developing pedagogy across the school. Following this, a ‘teacher learning network group’, led by the coordinator, was introduced. The teacher learning network group met on a monthly basis to give the staff the opportunity to share their knowledge of pedagogy and teaching resources, in line with the termly school pedagogy foci. The group created and trialled resources that were implemented at a whole school level. For example, the school marking and feedback resources were collaboratively discussed, created, trialled and edited by network group members – giving staff an important voice for their expertise, and offering them an opportunity to access relevant theory behind whole school choices. The group focused on meeting school priorities, such as raising the attainment of more able and talented learners, by looking at the way they plan effective questioning, assessment for learning and group work.

Through the annual self-evaluation cycle and processes, staff were able to identify areas of good practice within learning, teaching and pedagogy that need to be shared or developed across the school. The overall aim was to raise standards in both Key Stages 3 and 4. The ‘Teacher Networking Group’ had a clear impact on the standards of learning and teaching across the school. Between 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 there was an increase in the quality and consistency of teaching at the school. Many staff enthused to create their own subject-specific resources from resource templates, and a collaborative culture was nurtured. Many of the resources have been shared and a common approach to teaching across the school is now embedded. This has given a greater consistency to the learning experience for learners and helped increase their transfer of skills across the curriculum.

Case Study  3

Research Learning Communities Project, University College London (UCL) Institute of Education, England

Primary schools in England worked with the UCL Institute of Education in a two-year pilot project, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, focused on increasing the use of research in schools. The Research Learning Communities project was designed to help schools that aim to become more evidence-informed by: developing approaches to building teacher capacity to engage in and with research and data; exploring how school cultures can become more open to using evidence, making the use of research a cultural norm; exploring how schools can promote the use of research as part of an effective learning environment; and examining the structures, systems and resources needed to facilitate the use of research and share best practice.

Two leaders, a senior leader and an informal opinion leader, represented each participating school to ensure that central actors will champion research-informed practice and promote wider reach and buy-in to the approach across the school. During the first year, teams met four times in 10 groups of 5-6 schools for one-day workshops where they examined research and evidence relating to a commonly agreed area of focus. Based on this evidence, they then formulated, applied and evaluated school- or stage-wide development strategies. These were tested in schools between the sessions. The sessions were also designed to build capacity for sustaining the approach, ensuring that schools can continue to participate in the Research Learning Communities and use evidence effectively after the project ends. In the second year, participating schools led sessions, with external facilitators on hand to support and challenge them.

Source: Research Learning Communities, Education Endowment Foundation and the UCL Institute of Education, University of London, https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects/research-learning communities/


Case study 1

Collaborative learning and working through networks, Austria

The Austrian New Secondary School reform started as a relatively small-scale project in 2008 with 67 pilot schools. Since then, it has become a mandated school reform that will be completed in phases by 2018. Central to the reform is the creation of a new leadership position at the school level, the Lerndesigner, a teacher-leader who, together with the school’s principal and other teacher-leaders (subject co-ordinators, school development teams, etc.) serve as change agents in their schools. They are guided by the principle of school-specific reform and focus on the dual national reform goals of equity and excellence.

Much effort is devoted to building social and leadership capital through networking events. These play a central role in the reform as they provide the venue for learning, peer learning and dissemination of good practice. A specially designed two year national accredited qualification programme for Lerndesigners and an online platform for sharing ideas and practices are integral parts of the reform’s continuous professional development and leadership development efforts.

Source: OECD (2015), Schooling Redesigned: Towards Innovative Learning Systems, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264245914-en.


Case study 2

Neighbourhood as School project, Brazil

A new concept of education was developed in Vila Madalena, a small district in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo. Since 1997, the non-governmental organisation Cidade Escola Aprendiz, has been turning squares, alleys, cinemas, ateliers, cultural centres and theatres into classrooms. This “Neighbourhood as School” concept, an extension of formal schooling, aims to expand learning spaces in the community, creating a pedagogic laboratory in which learning is also knowing oneself and socially intervening in the community through communication, art and sports. The success of the Neighbourhood as School concept rests on a partnership among schools, families, public authorities, entrepreneurs, associations, craftspeople, non-governmental organisations and volunteers. Everybody educates and everybody learns.

Source: UNICEF (2009), Child Friendly School Manual, UNICEF, New York. www.unicef.org/publications/files/Child_Friendly_Schools_Manual_EN_040809.pdf.

Strength of evidence

There has been a long history of research in this field and this MESHGuide pulls together core information for those interested in the field.


We consider this knowledge has significant transferability. The focus is on placing learning at the centre of schooling and this emphasis on the things that matter in schools to advance learning will be applicable worldwide. 

Areas for further research

This work is influenced by research on professional learning communities, leadership, learning organisations. Case studies would be welcome demonstrating how these ideas work in different contexts. 

Editor's comments

If a school focuses on the learning of the individual at the centre of all activities then high quality outcomes should follow. This philosophy of the individual being at the core of practice will also show through the schools mission statement. This MESHGuide shows a model of education which is unified - staff, students and the community are all working together for the same goals. Learning Schools are flexible and outward facing, working with community to make education relevant. In addition, Learning Schools have review cycles and pay attention to data to bring a critical lens to practice.

Online community/professional associations

We know of no national or international network specifically on this topic however, in many countries there are professional associations of head teachers which may have members with similar interests.