High Expectations

High Expectations - What is it?

This blog is an extract from Defining High Expectations in Your School by Tim Nelson. To find out more click here.


As you may expect, many schools use the phrase ‘high expectations’ in their mission statement, prospectus, website and other similar material when describing outcomes for their pupils.

When asked to define what this means, the typical responses are:

“Ensuring every child fulfils his or her potential.”

“Realising the talents of all.”

“Treating every child as an individual and ensuring their needs are met in full.”

“Everyone has the chance to shine.”

Whilst not wishing to criticise any of these statements, all of which are worthy aims, the difficulty can be that one sentence needs to be more expansive to cover the wealth of provision and outcomes, and specific enough to be truly meaningful and measurable.


Another common issue is that a school does not have an agreed-upon definition of ‘high expectations’. The head teacher may give one response, a deputy head teacher a different response and the chair of the governing body yet another differing response.

High Expectations

Define High Expectations

Before reading any further, it may be useful to consider your response if you were asked to define ‘high expectations’ in your context.

  • Would your answer differ if you were asked the same question by different people? For example, what if you were asked by a parent, a governor, a member of staff, a pupil or an inspector?
  • What would be the responses from your colleagues in the same situation?

The format below can be used to sample the existing views of stakeholders. It could be given out at a staff meeting, governors’ meeting or parents’ evening.

High Expections Print off

School Inspection Handbook

The phrase ‘high expectations’ is often used in the School Inspection Handbook 2015, for example, in the grade descriptors:

From the ‘Quality of teaching in the school’


‘Teachers have consistently high expectations of all pupils’ attitudes to learning.

From ‘The effectiveness of leadership and management


‘Leaders and governors have created a culture that enables pupils and staff to excel. They are committed unwaveringly to setting high expectations for the conduct of pupils and staff.’


‘Leaders set high expectations of pupils and staff.’

School inspection is an evidence-based process. Inspectors must find strong evidence to support a judgement based on a school’s ‘high expectations’ in both these areas.

Teachers' Standards

The Teachers’ Standards also uses the phrase in the very first section. The bullet points offer some guidance as to what this looks like in practice:

A teacher must:
1) Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils

  • establish a safe and stimulating environment for pupils, rooted in mutual respect
  • set goals that stretch and challenge pupils of all backgrounds, abilities and dispositions
  • demonstrate consistently the positive attitudes, values and behaviour which are expected of pupils.

Because of the importance of the Teachers’ Standards in appraisal systems and pay progression it is vital that schools have a clear understanding of what these elements actually look like in their context.

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