Review by Sam Strickland

Principal, The Duston School

24 Mar 2024, 5:00


Schools of thought: Lessons to learn from schools doing things differently

By David James and Jane Lunnon






29 Feb 2024

At times it is all too easy to think that all schools should be the same, should look the same and should operate in the same way. Arguably, with the explosion of multi-academy trusts there is a growing push to create an M&S approach to education. As part of MAT X, schools A, B and C should all, in theory, look the same.

The reality is that no two schools are the same. Context is king. I have been privileged over the course of my career to work in a variety of school types. I worked in an upper school, serving children in years 9 to 13. I have worked in an all girls’ school and then in one of the first wave of CTC schools, which was an ‘Outstanding’ flagship school within a trust. I have served as a governor of a primary school. I have worked in two 11 to 18 comprehensive schools, a free school serving a very challenging community and a giant 2000-strong all-through school. No two schools are the same. All are different. We can paint the walls blue, standardise the school uniform and have a consistent curricular approach but there the sameness ends.

This is why Schools of Thought is such an engaging read. David James and Jane Lunnon carefully, intelligently and compellingly present 30 case study schools from across the world. They ask really well-crafted questions of each case study to offer a series of thought-provoking insights, not only into the fact schools can do things very differently, but that they are – and very successfully too.

The authors take the time to consider how faith schools operate, outlining their strengths, challenges and importance. Then James and Lunnon explore single-sex schools, an area I have extensive senior leadership experience in. They consider their importance, their future and how a single gender influences their culture and ethos. I found this particular section particularly interesting, probably due to my own lived experiences.

This is a fantastically well-presented book, offering detailed insights

Throughout, Schools of Thought presents a true balance. Whether you believe that the Twitter (now X) progressive versus traditionalist debate carries any credence or not, this book presents case studies of schools on both sides of the educational political spectrum. This includes schools with a focus on direct instruction and sequenced curriculum, as well as those that hone in on creativity and others that really push technology.

In keeping with the biggest challenge that faces our profession, notably recruitment and retention, there is also a focus on schools that place wellbeing at the heart of all that they do. This section of the book was really insightful. As a school leader, I am always thinking about what else can be done to support the wellbeing of my staff and pupils. The more food for thought here the better.

Every section presents differing viewpoints, entitled ‘another view’, and time is taken to pull the case studies in each section together to offer critical reflections. What separates this book from so many others is that there is no waffle. James and Lunnon get straight down to business and present each case study precisely for what it is. Reflections tail each chapter, but these are incredibly measured and skilfully crafted so as not to offer their own opinion and view. Every case study and section of this book is presented in such a manner that you are left to form your own.

Personally, I feel that visiting other schools presents an incredible professional development opportunity for colleagues. Doing so is both an honour and a privilege. Schools of Thought leaves you thinking about other schools that would be worth visiting. Whether you agree or disagree with the approaches that each of the case studies takes, what no one can refute after reading this is that there is a lot of positive food for thought in engaging specifically with the rich diversity of what education can and does offer.

So keep an open mind as you turn over the front cover. This is a fantastically well-presented book, offering detailed insights into how alternate schools go about their business. It may not in itself heal the divides that seem to characterise educational discourse, but at the very least Schools of Thought will make you think about their value.

More Reviews

Reading Lessons: The books we read at school, the conversations they spark and why they matter

Unlike any education book you've read, this one deserves to hit the mainstream for its mix of nostalgia and...

Find out more

The Conversation – with Rob Gasson

A falling out over research, ongoing controversy over Amanda Spielman's legacy and redefining school trusts as anchor institutions

Find out more

As we begin: Dispositions of mind, learning and the brain in early childhood

This passionate case for child-centred learning in the early years lacks realism about implementing its ideas

Find out more

The Conversation – with Sarah Gallagher

Setting, workload and pay, supporting TAs to work with pupils with SEND, and teaching consent

Find out more

The Conversation – with Zara Simpson

Ramadan, Women's History Month and British Science week

Find out more

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *