What is it?

Achievement is when a person accomplishes something due to their ability and/or effort. This is a broader term than attainment whic means reaching a specific level or goal (usually e.g. academic grades in education). Achievement may include for example sport, music, art, drama as well as personal and social skills but it includes attainment. Achievement is related to the whole person not just the academic aspects that we think we can measure through testing. 

Questions for reflecton on achievement:

1 What does your school see as "achievement"?

2 Do you monitor achievement?

3 If so, how?

4 How do you celebrate achievement?

5 Does that include staff and parents?

Why is it important?

Achievement is strongly linked to concepts of self-worth, belonging and motivation. In inclusive schools it is vital that schools believe that all its students can achieve. It then needs to enable its students and staff to achieve if the school is to be successful in releasing the talents and skills if its community. At least 3 closely related issues are pertinent in schools:

1 What does a school support, celebrate and value in terms of achievement?

If a school is purely focused on test results it will stifle and distort achievement. If a broader range of achievements is genuinely supported e.g. through resourcing of staff, time and in other ways and celebrated e.g. in a school’s award system, it will engage more people and enable them to grow into the persons that they can.

2 There is often a wide gap between levels of achievement (particularly in relation to attainment) between students within schools and between schools and between countries. Underlying explanations given may be poverty, special education needs, class, low expectations, inappropriate schooling. If we believe that each person is of equal value, then narrowing the gap is essential. This impacts on society as a whole – its well-being, inclusivity, maturity and success.

3 Achievement and Attainment are very much inter-related.

Research* looking at the link between “extended schools” (those with a lot of well-planned pupil activities beyond formal lessons) found that these can contribute to improve school standards in five main ways:

  1. Directly through programmes of study support activities such as holiday schools, booster classes and coursework catch up sessions.
  2. Semi-directly through activities which address pupils’ motivation and readiness to learn, such as through breakfast clubs, sports and arts activities and hobby clubs.
  3. Indirectly through programmes which enhance the abilities of families to support their children’s learning, such as parenting programmes, family learning or through regular and more purposeful dialogues with parents about their children’s learning. 
  4. Indirectly through services, generally provided by external specialist agencies which help pupils and their families overcome tangible obstacles to learning, such as case work with families, nursery provision for the children of school age mothers, family liaison workers to get children up in the morning and into school. 
  5. Indirectly through programmes which raise the value which families and residents in the neighbourhood place on education and school. 

The schools in this research used most or all of these approaches but putting children’s needs at the centre meant that the overall programme of services and how they were presented varied quite widely.  Schools generally targeted pupils and families carefully but targeting could be used quite deliberately to ensure certain pupils and families used provision that was open to all.  A key part of the success of these schools lay in the recognition that different approaches had different timescales and required different ways of collaborating with external partners. 


*Kirwan, T & MacBeath, J. (2007) Summary report: ECM Premium Project, School Leadership, Every Child Matters and School Standards (a study for the National College of School Leadership) by QiSS, Canterbury Christ Church University and Leadership for Learning, University of Cambridge.

*Arthur, J. (2002) Education with character: The moral economy of schooling. New York: Routledge Falmer.