High Performers

The Secrets of Successful Schools

By: Alistair Smith


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Products specifications
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Size: 182mm x 222mm
Pages : 224
ISBN : 9781845906870
Format: Paperback
Published: March 2011

Alistair Smith – trainer, author and consultant, and described as the UK's leading trainer in modern learning methods – has identified and visited the top performing schools to find out what makes them successful. This timely book is aimed at decision makers in schools and gives sound, evidence-based guidance on how to embark on the learning journey and where to head once the journey has begun. For classroom practitioners there is also a great deal of practical guidance. It focuses on: core purpose; outcomes; independent learning; classroom learning; curriculum; professional development; the school as a community; and parents and carers. This is not intended to be a book of tips. Rather, it is a sound 'how to' guide based on the findings of a detailed study of the best of the best schools and how they have achieved their success.

Picture for author Alistair Smith

Alistair Smith

Alistair Smith is an internationally known consultant, author and trainer. He has spoken to tens of thousands of teachers across the world and has written a number of books including: The Brain's Behind It: New Knowledge about the Brain and Learning, Help Your Child to Succeed: The Essential Guide for Parents and Accelerated Learning: A User's Guide. He is the designated learning consultant to the Football Association. He is also the author of Learning to Learn in Practice (ISBN 9781845902872).


  1. In 25 years of involvement in education as a teacher, middle manager, senior manager and consultant this is easily the most readable and useful book I have come across. Alistair's knowledge and obvious enthusiasm for the subject, supported by the most current academic research and illustrated by a host of real life examples and case studies is truly informative and full of 'take action tips' for immediate use.
  2. Why am I reviewing a book about successful schools when I work in a university? (Even though I have also worked in both primary and secondary schools.) I expected - wrongly - to find this book widely irrelevant, although of use in Education, and perhaps full of smug seven ways to self-improve guidance. I found it inspiring.High Performers focuses on: core purpose, student outcomes, learner engagement, classroom teaching, roles and responsibilities, professional development, managing data, and the school as a community. These are clearly vital areas of interest to universities, and for that matter colleges and other educational environments too.
  3. We are using High Performers as the basis for the professional development of the Senior Leadership team for this Academic year. I have found the book to be unique and inspirational in a number of ways. 

    It has such a clear and transparent research base that is so insightful. It enables you to see and better understand how so many exceptional schools operate. Alistair uses his understanding, insight and expertise is point you towards what those factors are and the main considerations for senior and middle leaders. The points are often things that are missed on visits to the actual schools concerned by less discerning eyes and ears. It is an exceptional example normative research which I also used as a key article for my MA at St Mary's University.

    The pithy nature of the book is ideal for the nature of modern school leadership -” it enables you to dip into in short but deeply challenging ways.

    All of the SLT have been significantly challenged and changed as a result.

    The examples and anecdotes are highly relevant. The open and honest contrast between the high performers in the book help enable the reader to think critically about the research and analysis presented.

    The book in itself could easily provide the focus and development for the all leaders in the school for the next two years (such is the depth and breadth of the book).

    If I could afford to buy a copy for every middle leader at RPHS I would!

    I believe we are only starting to tap into all that it provides.
  4. High performers is a fantastic school improvement text for use with teachers, middle leaders and senior staff in schools. It is a lively and insightful read. It can be read in one go, or dipped into. Its layout, in three distinct sections, means that different parts can be recommended to colleagues with different roles in the school. The summary lists and recommendations are useful signposts and reminders of the core messages. I love the metaphor of the circus troupe that runs throughout. And, importantly, it is a visually stimulating and uncluttered book!

    I have recommended this text to many colleagues. I have used excerpts with Aspiring Headteachers as a starting point for a discussion about how new Heads align staff around a core purpose and implement a vision for the school.

    I have also designed 2 self-assessment tools, one based around the middle leader recommendations and one around the senior leader recommendations, which I have used with Heads of Faculty / Heads of Year and senior leaders respectively. The exercise gets colleagues to look at reach recommendation in turn and decide whether it is high or low impact and whether it is something they do well or need to work on.

    I have yet to introduce this book to a colleague who has not found it insightful, honest and of value in developing them as a leader and performer.
  5. Alistair Smith has written several highly readable books for teachers and parents. On this occasion he worked with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust to identify 20 outstanding secondary schools in England. Multiple criteria were used to make the selection and these hold up well under critical scrutiny. Five of the 20 schools were -˜ourlier' schools in that they perform at an exceptionally high level or had made dramatic improvement, or were highly innovative.

    Smith uses a technique that will be appreciated. Rather rhan one-at-a-time case studies with an overarching synthesis, which can make tedious reading, each chapter is a synthesis of what he found, grouped around different themes. He uses the image of The Flying Wa llendas highwite performers as an integrating device, which may be entirely appropriate given the current nature of school leadership. Smith acknowledges the limitations of his research in which he was the only interviewer at each school. He asked the same 10 questions to leadership teams, middle managers and classroom teachers.
    The findings are summarised in 10 areas related to core purposes: student outcomes; student learning; classroom learning; curriculum offerings; professional development; staff roles, responsibilities and profile; the school as a community; engagement with parents and carers; and engagement with the wider community. He provides recommendations for school leaders, middle managers and teachers.

    The outcome is a book whose every page is packed with helpful tips, useful guidelines and a range of tactics and strategies. As those who endorsed the book point out, one can pick up the book and open any page to find something worthwhile, with illustrations from several of the outstanding schools Smith visited. I found it difficult but also unnecessary to attempt to read it from start to fin ish. I cou ld find nothing in the book that was less applicable in Australia than England, except for the occasional reference to Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) and preparing for Ofsted inspections.

    The general nature of the recommendations is illustrated in Chapter 2, -˜The first 10 steps.' For leaders Smith recommends that they should recognise that the journey to high performance may take five to seven years, and plan accordingly; ensure the leadership team is visible and has a strong -˜presence' around the school; obtain quick wins and initiate important slow fixes; secure a framework for discipline and standards, and strive for consistency of response to incidents from all staff; insist on lessons which engage, have pace, structure and challenge; ask hard questions about what's on offer in the curriculum; build a sense of community through shared successes, symbolic moments and interventions; let staff know that if they do their best for students, you will support them, provided their best is good enough and, if not, you will act; get on top of the data, tighten monitoring and accountability and be open and honest to take staff with you; start to build productive partnerships but focus down to the 20 per cent which will give you the 80 per cent return; and build a safe environment with strong school values where students and staff can focus on and enjoy learning.

    High Performers: The secrets of successful schools appears at first sight to be fragmented but there is coherence. The findings are consistent with resea rch. There is a healthy scepticism to fads in curriculum and pedagogy. I agree with Tim Brighouse's observation: -˜The beauty of this book is that it brings within your certain grasp what appeared just out of your professional reach.
  6. Alistair Smith has been described as “the UK's leading trainer in modern learning methods”. His latest book is meant as a practical “how to” guide but with an emphasis on giving advice to all levels of teaching staff - from classroom practitioners to senior leaders. Its aim is to teach you how to succeed - individually and as a team. In theory, it should show readers how to make their schools high-performing and successful, based on the 20 top performers that Mr Smith visited and studied to produce this guide.

    Most will appreciate his articulate and intelligent approach to self- improvement. Indeed, many teachers and headteachers will already be familiar with the author as an inspirational speaker with none of the usual “magic formulas”, but rather a genuinely insightful take on what outstanding schools, their leaders and teachers actually practice and preach.

    In the introduction, there is a simple comparison of leadership to a famous team of successful “high wires” which sets the tone for Smith's clear and practical analysis throughout the book.

    This study is informative, concise and covers a range of thoroughly explained examples of what successful schools do to become high performers.

    Yet, to use a footballing analogy, anyone could tell you why, for example, David Beckham is an excellent footballer. They could point out what his skills are, what he achieves with them and when he delivers them. But to become like Beckham, you would need to know “how” he learnt his skills and what steps he took to become such a talented footballer. Indeed, a lack of focus on the “how” may be a gap in this otherwise extremely thought- provoking study.

    Nevertheless, the 10x10 project, which Smith conceived and undertook and which he outlines at the end of the book, does offer detailed descriptions of the practice in these high-performing schools and attempts to explain how this contributes to their success. Indeed, it is this section in particular that makes the book a worthwhile read for anyone involved in educational leadership.

    Smith has a proven track record of success, established over a number of years, and his latest book should not be consigned to the bookshelf of unread self-help guides. On the contrary, this clear and accessible guide may help to inspire excellence in the places where it is needed most.
  7. High performers is a no nonsense, unapologetic plunge into what great success looks like. Using the brilliant metaphor of high wire performance Alistair Smith takes us into 15 extraordinary schools and shows us how leaders inspire, what high performing teachers do, and how middle managers support `the human pyramid`. Every few pages, powerful, practical `recommendations for leaders` are offered. An unusual and uplifting book.
  8. The high performing school is an elusive phenomenon. We all know that it exists but actually identifying its component parts in a way that enables understanding and action is rare. This is what Alistair Smith has achieved in High Performers. This resource provides detailed and systematic guidance in how high performance actually works. Firmly based in current practice this book is both a reference work and a source of inspiration. It is challenging and practical and will be of real value to leadership teams planning their way forward..
  9. This excellent book, organised and written in a lively and engaging style, explains how schools can become high performing in all aspects of their work, based upon case studies, practice and extensive research. It is structured around the concepts of leaders improving, teachers performing and managers supporting with appropriate recommendations for action. The book is packed with practical ideas and suggestions and will appeal greatly to school leaders, classroom practitioners, members of the school community and all those who work and advise on school improvement..
  10. `I have never read a school improvement book like this. Almost every page has some small vivid, persuasive and compelling example of good practice drawn from the classroom or the department or the senior leadership team itself. Every one is authentic, as it would be with Alistair Smith as author. Generations of teachers and school leaders have known him as an inspirational speaker and workshop leader. Here he shows an enviable skill as a writer. It is written at a time when money is going to be tight but ideally every teacher should have their own copy. Even in such straightened times a copy for each newly qualified teacher and freshly appointed heads of department or subject leader would be money well spent by all schools. The beauty of this book is that it brings within your certain grasp what appeared just out of your professional reach.`
  11. Alistair Smith has set out to distil the practice of 20 high performing schools - and comes up trumps. The result is a highly readable book full of valuable practical advice. His lists of `recommendations` for heads, teachers and middle leaders has the potential to inform, enliven and enrich many a discussion or training workshop. Reading this book is the first step for all those committed to school improvement - but I strongly suspect that it is the discussion that it provokes that will impact at both the individual and school level.
  12. `Alistair Smith visited 20 of the top performing state schools to investigate `what makes them successful?` He asked the same questions in each school and in High Performers he shares the findings. His style is lucid and pleasing; his findings reasoned and cogent.

    I commend the book to school leaders and classroom practitioners. It gives persuasive evidence-based guidance on why some of the best have succeeded. It focuses on core purpose, student outcomes, learner engagement, classroom teaching, roles and responsibilities, professional development, managing data and the school as a community.

    High Performers is an easily read and impressively practical `how to` guide full of `tips` that draw on original research.`
  13. With characteristic wisdom and clarity, Alistair Smith peels back the layers of some of the country`s top performing schools. What he reveals isn`t some slick replicable formula, but there are some overpowering messages of what works - relentless sureness of purpose, the ability to say no, intolerance of mediocrity and endless optimism. Smith illuminates the schools he peers into with wit and humanity. This is no exercise in cheap praise or hagiography: he describes what he sees, what he`s disappointed in or surprised by as well as what he admires. That`s what makes the book such an illuminating, personable read. We look through the eyes of one of education`s undoubted masters and find ourselves nourished and enriched by the account of what he sees. As a result, the seemingly impossible becomes tangibly more possible: without league table tricks or curricular sleights of hand, we could all make our schools like these. High Performers is a compelling read. It`s strongly recommended for current and would-be school leaders, and also for our political masters who would benefit from this sharp-eyed, astringent and endlessly uplifting insight into what great schools do, day in, day out.
  14. I was once told that the more power you gave away the more power you had. If I had read this book earlier I would have understood the concept more fully. This easy-to-read book gets to the heart of distributed leadership. It creates a model which will help everyone within a school to understand its own unique core purpose and ensure that they feel empowered and accountable for delivering it. Whilst it will provide a brilliant `big picture` guide for a new head it can be used as a service manual for experienced heads who are seeking to fine tune their leadership.
  15. Every school leader will find a host of ideas in this gem of a book, which is packed with practical suggestions that are being used in outstandingly led schools.

    The 93 recommendations - in separate sections for school leaders, middle managers and teachers - are a great resource for staff at all levels. Thoroughly researched and clearly presented, the book is an invaluable volume of excellent practice, which can be used in many different ways for professional development.

    Every leadership team, middle management meeting and staff training day should focus on learning and this book will be a stimulus to improvement, whatever the starting point.

    Every teacher and school leader will find in this book enough nuggets of wisdom to create a gold mine of good practice. The focus of the book is on great learning and it contains numerous examples of how it can be stimulated through great leadership and great teaching.
  16. Praise for High Performers

    Building success is a personal as well as professional challenge. Alistair Smith manages to get up close and personal in delving into the professional journeys of some successful schools.

    He goes past the formulaic approaches, the templates for action and sets out a series of challenges for school leaders and their teams to ask themselves. The touchstone is a set of schools which are recognised as successful; most importantly by the pupils within them.

    Because the book is not formulaic, it is one to dip into as a means of exploring your own school. Every section of the book bristles with the sort of reflection that touches nerves while at the same time offering balm.

    The balm is the management suggestions that prompt a `we could do that` outlook. The suggestions promote incisive, swift, modern and demanding but enjoyable approaches to leadership.

    Alistair Smith leaves the reader professionally aware and personally motivated. Leadership can make a massive difference and young peoples` lives benefit when it does.

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