Why Good Grades don’t make a Good School

THE BANKER: “As educators, we need to think beyond degrees and certificates. As governments, we need to take advantage of the world of instant information to harness the coming skills revolution.  – Dave McKay, President and CEO, Royal Bank of Canada

THE GOVERNMENT: “Our population has become increasingly diverse, technologies are more sophisticated, and the demands of the workplace are more complex. Our education system must respond to these and the other challenges of our times. – New Zealand Curriculum

THE ECONOMIST: ” Crucial areas such as project-based learning and global citizenship are being widely ignored.” –  The Economist Intelligence Unit Ltd

THE UNIVERSITY: “Three key factors of young adult success (agency, an integrated identity, and competencies) and four foundational 1 components (self-regulation, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values) that underlie them.” – The University of Chicago

It is within the power of a school to change its community’s dialogue around success. -Richard Wells : @EduWells 

  • Does your school genuinely want to develop young people and support the quoted organisations above or just worry about grade percentages?
  • What do you present to your school community?
    • Learning outcomes and student impact or
    • photographs of your three top exam passers?

Is it time to change your school community’s conversation about what success looks and feels like? I have posted before on how a focus on development in skills and competencies requested above leads to knowledge and exam success. Too many schools have not responded, as requested above, and still allow only exam success to drive school structures and activity, thus creating the skill gaps mentioned in the opening quotes.

A simple challenge to High Schools

What I’m talking about is the holistic education that is outlined in every school’s set of values and purpose. Whether you supposedly aim for “An all-round Education” or “Independent and motivated critical thinkers”, It is time to look at how much you can sell to your community that it is genuinely achieved in the average (not top) school leaver. So here is a very simple challenge to every high school:

“If your successful school has achieved its aim for an all-round education, producing independent and motivated critical thinkers, then why can you not trust the organisation of their final year’s school days and resources to the students themselves?”
– Richard Wells : @EduWells

If what you advertise to your community is true and the majority of your final year students are truely motivated and independent, then why would you need to timetable them? Why would you need to organise which resources they look at? Why would you need to explain how to achieve exam success? Why would you tell them when to go for lunch? How honest are you being about achieving your own school’s goals and values?

Skills lead to Knowledge but not vice versa

Knowledge can be taught but to develop skills, mindsets, & values requires significant, genuine experience and 
personal reflection. The type of genuine experience that does not include exam preparation. Teachers and parents agree that exams are abstract environments that can test knowledge but cannot truely test the other three. Teaching to the test means even skills are not truely evidenced in such a false situation. No school assessment touches on evaluating students’ mindsets and values and this is why schools lose genuine interest in them. Schools only pay lip service to values because it’s too dangerous to school reputation to truely measure and graph such information in competitive school systems that rank schools against each other.

The majority of schools need to respond to the demands quoted above and realise that genuinely shaping school activity and structures around your school’s goals for graduates will redefine the school day but not necessarily impact on exam success.

Examples and guidance can be found here

P.S. Is everyone becoming anti-knowledge?

It is not a matter of knowledge being less important or not required but that students become skilled in realising when they need it, how to fill gaps and how to check the quality of their own gap filling. In a short time they won’t have a teacher but most current school graduates (and teachers who went through the same system) are trained to expect to receive knowledge and solutions from a provided expert. I have often heard teachers saying “when will we receive PD in this?” No one ends up empowered to sort themselves out and ready for the world. It’s a matter of balancing the provision of knowledge and genuine experiences that allow students to struggle and work through situations by practicing the now in-demand skills.


Author: Richard Wells
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of  The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers.