Schools causing concern – the journey from failure to success
A small, intractable proportion of schools in England continue to cause concern. The identity of these schools changes. While many improve, others face unusual challenges or have simply lost their drive and focus. They slide into this category, having previously been judged to be satisfactory or better than this.
In the last school year, Ofsted judged that 260 schools, providing for well over 100,000 children and young people, had improved to the extent that they no longer required special measures or a notice to improve. This section of the Annual Report focuses on how this came about and the roles and actions of the schools, Ofsted and other stakeholders.
It is based on an analysis of the progress of all 260 schools that emerged from a category of concern in 2009/10, a detailed school by school review of 40% of schools which emerged from special measures and a smaller sample (20%) of those which no longer required a notice to improve.
- The key determining factors for a school going into a category of concern, as for coming out, are operational rather than contextual. They include inconsistent teaching stemming from inadequate leadership and governance, staff shortages and mobility in schools in particular areas, and lax monitoring by the local authority.
- Many schools do not start their improvement arrangements quickly enough. They wait until the first monitoring visit and so three to six months are lost.
- In almost all the sample of secondary schools and many of the primary schools that emerged from special measures, the key factor was the appointment or attachment of an external headteacher, full- or part-time, to strengthen the leadership of the school. Any delay in securing effective leadership, such as appointing an executive headteacher, inhibits the school in coming to terms with the inspection findings and its capacity to make progress in dealing with the recommendations.
- Schools causing concern usually have insufficient expertise within their own resources to turn themselves around and therefore little capacity to improve. As well as effective leadership, they need technical expertise of different kinds, closely related to the areas identified for improvement. Associating or informally federating the school causing concern with a high-capacity partner or support school provides a direct source of expertise and a model of good practice.
- Creating partnerships of schools has the potential to provide the capacity to sustain individual schools in challenging times, such as during the loss of key teachers. This capacity has been illustrated by examples of national support and federated schools working successfully with schools causing concern, as well as in partnerships where there are fewer differences between the schools.
- The governance of a school that goes into special measures is often ineffective. The appointment of interim executive boards or strengthening of governing bodies is another essential step.
- In 2009/10, only 287 of the 476 (60%) local authority statements of action scrutinised were fit for purpose. The rest required improvement in order to meet requirements by the time of the first monitoring visit. The best plans are written in discussion with the school.
- The contribution of the school improvement partners is very variable. There is some concern about their effectiveness in alerting the local authority and governors to incipient weaknesses before the school goes into a category and, unless they are capable practising headteachers, the effectiveness of their contribution to school improvement in schools facing serious challenges.
- Monitoring inspections of schools that are subject to special measures (090272), Ofsted, 2010