Packing Down for Success: the 5 Pillars of Really Good Schools

I’ve been struck by Rugby World Cup fever. I’m a bit of an addict, and will confess to late-night highlight-watching sessions with Wellington (our moderately-poorly-behaved cocker spaniel) as my current method of ‘switching off’.  

I’m also about half-way through Clive Woodward’s book ‘Winning’, where he gives his account of how he took the England Men’s Rugby XV through to World Cup Glory in 2003. (Do you remember where you were when that drop-goal went over? I do, but that’s for another time….).  

So the theme of Rugby is very much in my head at the moment.  

I’ve always loved that the French word for Prop Forward (the two sturdy fellas who pack down in the front row of a rugby scrum) is ‘Pilier’. As a linguist, this pleases me enormously – a no-nonsense translation that sums up succinctly that these two immovable units are the ‘pillars’ (literally) that hold up the 144-stone mass of muscle and pressure that is the scrum. 

And Woodward talks in his book (and elsewhere) about ‘pillars’ – pillars of Teamship, pillars of courage. The immovable foundations on which success is built. The non-negotiables that form the basis of what you stand for and of what you believe in. 

And so it is that, fresh from last week’s annual IAPS Heads’ Conference, I’ve been reflecting on the pillars of ECS; the immovable foundations that underpin what we do and how we do it. What really matters in education? What really matters to a truly exceptional school?  

Here, then, are my Five Pillars of Really Good Schools: 



People matter, and they should come first. That means that outstanding relationships are crucial. From this all else flows. 


Academic Rigour

We prize hard work, curiosity, brilliant teaching, and an exciting curriculum. 


An Appreciation of the Spiritual

Giving children the time, space and nurture to grow in love and know that they are part of something greater and more timeless than themselves.  


Inclusivity and Service 

Welcoming everyone, championing difference, impacting positively on the world around us. 



You only get one crack at childhood, so it had better be a good one. Fun matters very much. 


There we are, then – that’s my front five to pack down with. If our pillars (‘piliers’) are our scrum, perhaps our staff team is the Scrum Half, feeding the ball with skill and nuance to our pupils in the Three Quarter line to run with. As parents and guardians we are probably a combination of Full Back (clearing up around the back, making the tackles that other have missed), coach, physio, kit man, nutritionist, medic, and water boy. Whatever our place in the team, having our rock-steady pillars – our values – our immovables – pushing for us and driving us in what we do makes us a terrific squad, and means that turning up to training each day is really, really rewarding. 

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